School of Arts and Sciences

NBC Connecticut morning co-anchors Heidi Voight, '10, and Ted Koppy

[Update: Heidi Voight, ’10, was interviewed in March, when she was pregnant with twin girls. On May 13 — Mother’s Day — the “twincesses” arrived six weeks early. Apolonia “Polly” Rose was born at 8:47 a.m., weighing 3 pounds, 11 ounces, and measuring 16.5 inches. Sister Violet Concetta arrived at 8:48 a.m., weighing 3 pounds, 10.4 ounces, and measuring 17 inches. After being cared for at Connecticut Children’s NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) at UConn Health, Violet was discharged first on June 22. On June 27, the girls were reunited at home with their parents.]

It was a trial by fire for up-and-coming journalist Heidi Voight, ’10. “My very first live shot on air was as breaking as it gets — just minutes after a deadly EF3 tornado tore through Springfield, Mass.,” says Voight, who was working as a photographer, shooting video in the south end of the city when the twister struck on June 1, 2011. With trees downed, buildings crumbled, and roads blocked, the main anchor couldn’t make it to the scene. “Suddenly, the live truck operator grabbed my camera from my hands, switched it out for a microphone, and told me, `Stand by. You’re going to be live on the air in 10 seconds,’” she recalls.

Voight’s report — and her one-year update on the storm — won Emmy Awards. She soon signed an on-air contract and, today, is the morning anchor for NBC Connecticut with a loyal following.

“I was the first in my immediate family to attend and finish college,” says Voight, who worked full-time while majoring in theatre at Southern. In 2006, while studying at Southern, she represented the state as Miss Connecticut. She also was recognized regionally and nationally as the recipient of the prestigious National Critics Institute Scholarship through the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.

“I worked with some of the nation’s most respected journalists at the Kennedy Center and at the Eugene O’Neill American Theatre Conference as a Critic Fellow in 2004, which cemented my career path,” she says. “That door only opened for me because one professor, Sheila Garvey, [Department of Theatre], took notice of my interest in writing and encouraged me to enter a competition I otherwise would never have known about.”

Voight, who is celebrating her fourth anniversary with NBC Connecticut, says she’s grateful for personal blessings as well. She’s recently married, is a new home owner, and, is expecting twin girls in June. Following she talks about her journey from Southern to the NBC news desk.

You were named the NBC Connecticut Today morning anchor in June 2016. Was becoming a news anchor a long-term goal?
Yes! Growing up in Milford, Conn., I watched local news anchors like Joanne Nesti, Janet Peckinpaugh, Diane Smith, and Ann Nyberg, and dreamed of becoming like them someday. I always had a passion for storytelling and writing. When I was still in elementary school, our school librarian, Mrs. Williams, nicknamed me “reporter lady” because I was always there researching and writing book reports, always clutching my notebook. So I can truly say I’m living my dream today as a journalist.

What’s the best part of the job? What’s most challenging?
The best part of the job is being able to shine a light on the good that is happening in the world and here in my home state. I am a believer that journalism can and should make the world a better place. The most challenging part is not losing heart when we have to cover all the bad things that happen in between those bright spots. There are some stories that haunt me. There have been some difficult moments. But I always say: the day you stop feeling human emotions in response to the tough stories is the day you need to hang it up. Never lose your empathy. The journalists I most admire, like Steve Hartman, Lester Holt, and Savannah Guthrie, are not afraid to be real [when] relating to others.

Looking back, are there stories you worked on that stand out as pivotal to your career?
My career started with a bang: My very first live shot on air was as breaking as it gets — just minutes after a deadly EF3 tornado tore through Springfield, Mass. I was in the devastated south end of the city, roaming around with my camera shooting video as a photographer. Because of all the downed trees and crumbling buildings, many roads were blocked off and our main anchor couldn’t race to the scene in time for her live shot. Suddenly, the live truck operator grabbed my camera from my hands, switched it out for a microphone, and told me, “Stand by. You’re going to be live on the air in 10 seconds.”

Wait. What?! And just like that, I was reporting live on the air for the first time. I wasn’t dressed for TV. I didn’t have a script. I didn’t even have time to collect my thoughts. I just said what I was seeing and hearing. I grabbed a man off the sidewalk and interviewed him live. He had hidden under a table when the windows in his apartment blew out. He said he felt lucky to be alive. That was truly the first day of the rest of my career. . . . I ended up signing an on-air contract shortly after. Our team coverage that day — and [our coverage] on the one year anniversary — won Emmy awards. Talk about baptism by fire!

What are some of the stories that your most proud of?
More recently, I was very proud to be recognized with six awards from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists for my reporting on a range of issues — including a series profiling fallen law enforcement officers, and an investigation into state and federal funding of Connecticut’s highway service patrol fleet.

I’m proud of stories that get results for our viewers and hold leaders accountable. And I’m proud of stories that delve deep into the human experience. I was the only TV reporter besides the Today Show’s Matt Lauer to exclusively interview Madonna Badger, the woman who lost her three beautiful children and both parents in a 2011 Christmas day fire in Stamford. Earning her trust and having the privilege of telling her unimaginable story of grief and healing was profoundly humbling. Source from the livecasinosites.com live dealer casino websites.


What five adjectives describe you as a journalist?
Relentless. Competitive. Connected. Empathetic. Engaged.

Your on-air bio describes you as a “proud graduate of Southern Connecticut State University.” Tell us a bit about that pride. How did Southern help to prepare you for your career?
What really stands out in my mind is the sense of community I felt at Southern. I really felt like my professors took a vested interest in my success, not just as a student but as a person. I arrived at SCSU during a tumultuous time in my life. I needed support and direction, and I got it from so many special people on campus, from my professors to the staff at Student Affairs, the Women’s Center [now known as VPAS, the Violence Prevention, Victim Advocacy, and Support Center], and other departments. I still keep in touch with many of my professors to this day.

I was the first in my immediate family to attend and finish college. It took me a little longer than most, as I worked full-time all through college to support myself. I also took a nontraditional path into the journalism field as a theatre major, but at Southern I was always encouraged to explore my intellectual curiosities like journalism and philosophy, and taking those classes opened up new opportunities for me. I believe that multidisciplinary education made me a more well-rounded journalist.

“My second family,” says Voight,’10, of the NBC Connecticut morning team. Pictured at her wedding are [from left]: meteorologist Bob Maxon (he officiated), Voight, Ted Koppy, co-anchor, and Hanna Mordoh, traffic reporter.

Last but not least, we saw the emotional on-air announcement that you and husband, David, are expecting twins. Congratulations! What’s it like to share this journey with your viewers and fellow news team?
Thank you so much! I am expecting identical twin girls in late May/early June. (June 8 if we go full term but twins often like to make their grand entrance early!) I am so overwhelmed by all the kindness and support shown to me by our viewers and my colleagues. I’m coming up on my fourth anniversary here at NBC Connecticut, and it blows my mind to look back on how much my life has changed since I first walked through these doors. In that time, I’ve worked my way up to the anchor desk full-time, I’ve gotten engaged and married, am starting my own family, and becoming a first-time homeowner.

These are all the things I only dreamed of back when I was waiting tables full-time and riding my bike or the city bus to class at SCSU so many years ago. Now there are billboards for our morning team on those same city buses. It’s crazy. I am so grateful and I don’t take a second of it for granted. It’s all proof that if you work hard, let yourself be helped by your supportive SCSU community, and relentlessly pursue every opportunity made available to you, you WILL find your purpose and you CAN live your dream. GO OWLS!

Voight, who is expecting twins, poses with the news team’s “Snow Monster” weather vehicle and her two “snow babies.” In, perhaps, one of the most epic gender reveals in NBC history, Today anchors, Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, paused in their reporting from the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, to share that Voight and husband, David, are expecting girls.

The J. Philip Smith Award for Outstanding Teaching is presented each year to one full-time and one part-time faculty member for exemplary teaching. The award is one of the university’s highest honors, and faculty honorees are recognized at undergraduate commencement with a plaque and an honorarium of $2500.

The awardee for 2017’s full-time award is Associate Professor of English Charles Baraw, known for his thoughtful, meticulously prepared and stimulating English classes, as well as his rare ability to switch gears if that’s what he senses students need. The awardee for the part-time award is Michelle Stoehr-McCarthy, Adjunct Professor of English, an accomplished writer, who has made a remarkable impact on students and colleagues during her short time at Southern as an adjunct professor teaching composition/academic writing.

In eight years at Southern, Baraw has designed and taught more than a dozen different courses and created two new ones again this year. He has a broad range of experience teaching 19th- and 20th-century literature, as well as the works of Shakespeare and the British poets.

One of his most popular classes, “Comics and the American Experience,” ends with a project in which students create their own comic, along with an essay about the creative process behind their productions.

“I have to listen carefully to what students say and what they do not say in their conversations with the text, with each other, and with me,” Baraw wrote of his teaching style. “And I have to be ready to act accordingly, to change, to try a different approach. What do we do, for instance, when students are reluctant to speak in class because, as some have told me, they are ‘afraid of being wrong’? Or when students do not know what to look at or what to look for in a text, or when they don’t or won’t or can’t do the assigned reading?”

One colleague, calling Baraw “respected and admired,” said that he “has made a dramatic and positive difference for our English majors and for students across the university.” The colleague added that Baraw’s instructional design is “brilliant,” and he has “deep care for the learning and development of each student.”

Baraw has said his core philosophy of teaching, is based on a “mutual imperative to trust,” explaining, “I have to trust that all students can learn . . . and they must trust that I can teach them,” he said.

Baraw has been a champion of study abroad, and in recent years has been a key figure in the university’s growing relationship with Liverpool John Moores University. He has also started, and through his family endowed, a foundation fund to help Southern students with limited financial means to travel to Liverpool, or elsewhere, for their studies.

Beyond academics, Baraw has steadfastly promoted the AAA fund, designed to help at-risk students in times of financial crisis. The fund aids Southern’s efforts to encourage student retention and persistence.

A graduate student-turned-colleague of Baraw’s describes him as an “incredible mentor,” who has guided her through tough situations. The student said Baraw modeled behavior that has changed not only “how I teach, but how I live, with a focus toward progress, not perfection.”

Colleagues also said they’ve learned a lot about the art of teaching from Baraw. “Chuck is one of a very small number of my ‘go-to’ people in the department when I want to talk teaching,” one colleague said, adding that Baraw is “a font of great ideas, sensitive self-criticism, and constructive experimentation in light of actual classroom results.”

Baraw holds a Ph.D. in English from Yale University, a master’s degree in English from Middlebury College, and a bachelor’s degree in English literature and American history from the University of Vermont.

 

Stoehr-McCarthy says that her goals in the classroom “have been not only to teach reading and writing, but to promote social and personal engagement and commitment to excellence,” adding that “one of my talents as a teacher has been to discern student strengths, and to bring those out through positive feedback with attention to student-generated goals, while minimizing student weaknesses through redirection.”

She frequently ask students to present their writing both in and out of class in order to build their confidence and to promote leadership skills “that will serve my students in future SCSU classes and in life.”

One colleague wrote that Stoehr-McCarthy “has taken a leading role in encouraging students at all levels to present their research and writing to the public.” The colleague explained that Stoehr-McCarthy instituted a partner system among the 20 students in her class so they could respond to each other’s postings and work collaboratively in class. “Since that time, I have seen more evidence of why Professor Stoehr-McCarthy’s students, colleagues, and fellow writers respect her so much. She works closely with writers of all levels and cultivates confidence among them,” the colleague wrote.

Another colleague of Professor Stoehr-McCarthy’s said that while she’s certain there are many who can attest to her highly effective, engaging, and innovative teaching model, “what makes her a truly outstanding teacher is her commitment outside of the classroom to the profession itself.”

A student who had Stoehr-McCarthy for the spring 2017 semester said that she is a fabulous teacher, but most of all a wonderful person who took great care of her emotionally when the student’s brother died.

The student wrote: “Never in my life have I known such grief and have been tormented by such pain; Shelley was the only professor that took time out of her day to sympathize with me, and made sure I was ever okay. During my leave of absence from class, she put my mental health first before my assignments that I was going to miss. When I returned to her class, she was so patient with me and would come over to my desk to encourage me when I would look or act withdrawn from what we were doing. I have never been more thankful for an educator that had such a big heart for her students.”

Another student wrote that Stoehr-McCarthy “truly made the class relatable for all the students, giving a technological twist for our millennial culture. She gave us, the students, the ability to express our thoughts and have intelligent class discussions about what our feelings were on topics and she even told us about herself and how she related to such topics.”

Professor Stoehr-McCarthy holds a bachelor of arts degree from Connecticut College with a major in dance and a minor in English. She is an author and has held many writing positions, including as a freelance editor, ghost writer, freelance reporter for Milford Patch, and guest book reviewer for The San Francisco Chronicle. From 1992-1996 she served as head teacher for School for Education in Dance in New York City. She is an MFA candidate in creative writing at Southern.

Middle East History Professor Steven Judd says he doesn’t “shy from controversy” when it comes to scholarly work or university life – and he’s demonstrated that in his recent book: Religious Scholars and the Umayyads: Piety­ minded Supporters of the Marwanid Caliphate.

The book forces scholars to re-examine long held assumptions about the early history of Islam.

Judd is this year’s recipient of the Faculty Scholar Award, an honor conferred jointly by the Faculty Scholar Award Committee and the university president. The award recognizes scholarly and creative work of exceptional merit by a full-time member of the SCSU faculty.

Judd’s book argues that opposition to the Umayyads was not universal and that a substantial network of pious religious scholars actively supported the regime. “Religious Scholars and the Umayyads was meant to disrupt,” Judd wrote of his book.

Judd asserts in his work that “the standard historiographical approach to the period falls victim to the biases of a few selected sources and that a broader array of sources provides a necessary corrective.”

He goes on to explain, “By exploiting different sources, I reconstructed the network of religious scholars who supported the supposedly Godless regime and demonstrated their influence on Islamic legal development.”

A colleague reflecting on the book informed Judd that he and others were “impressed by the depth of your scholarship, your imaginative use of biographical sources, and the fact that your book forces scholars to re-examine long held assumptions about the early history of Islam.”

Another colleague wrote: “Dr. Judd’s imaginative use of biographical sources is used to shed new light on an era that is forcing even the defenders of the orthodox position to acknowledge that some assumptions need to be re-examined.”

In describing the book, Judd writes that the Umayyad century, between 661-750 CE, has traditionally been treated “as an interregnum, characterized by ungodly rulers confronting pious opponents whose resistance ranged from rebellion to quietist withdrawal.”

Judd’s book has been well-received by scholars in the field, he says, “despite its disruptive intent and its critique of long-standing historical and historiographical paradigms.”

Reviews of the piece have appeared in diverse venues, including American, German, Turkish and Italian publications. The work has also been cited extensively in a variety of publications.

Hamza Zafer, the leading Islamic historian at the University of Washington, asserts that the work “changes our understanding of lslam’s early development,” and “upends the standard Western and Muslim narratives.”

David Powers, senior Islamic legal scholar at Cornell and long-time editor of “Islamic Law and Society,” describes the work as ”a solid and persuasive monograph” and “an important contribution.”

In addition to formal reviews, Religious Scholars and the Umayyads has been cited in a variety of articles, including by Nimrod Hurvitz, a leading Israeli scholar who notes that Judd’s work “marshaled a convincing body of historical ‘evidence that contradicts the ‘opposition paradigm.”

Judd says that broad and largely positive interest shown in the book around the globe suggests that it will have a long-term impact on the field and force scholars to question long-standing historical and historiographical paradigms.

“If that is the case,” he said, “the book will have accomplished its purpose.”

Judd holds a Ph.D. and master’s degree from the University of Michigan and a bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College. He counts among the courses he teaches: Islamic Civilization, Muhammad to the Mongols, Modern Iraq, Islamic Fundamentalism, and The Medieval Middle East.

 

interview with SCSU Professor David Pettigrew with the the Federal News Agency (FENA) regarding the then-impending verdict in the Ratko Mladić case in Bosnia

For more than a decade, Philosophy Professor David Pettigrew has been traveling to Bosnia to perform research, give lectures and interviews, and advocate for the victims of atrocities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia on March 1, 1992, triggering a secessionist bid by the country’s Serbs backed by the Yugoslavian capital, Belgrade, and a war that left about 100,000 dead, including the mass slaughter of many Bosnian Muslims by Serb forces. In addition, the crimes committed at the town of Srebrenica have been ruled to be genocide.

While all his efforts are part of a personal commitment to human rights and social justice, Pettigrew’s work on Bosnia also has an academic dimension, expressed through his lectures, publications, film screenings, and other work. He also teaches a holocaust and genocide studies course at Southern.

In late November, Pettigrew traveled to Bosnia to give two lectures in Sarajevo and an interview with the Federal News Agency (FENA) regarding the then-impending verdict in the Ratko Mladić case. The case concerned crimes Mladić committed during the Bosnian War in his role as a general in the Yugoslav People’s Army and the chief of staff of the Army of Republika Srpska. The verdict was delivered on November 22: Mladić was convicted of 10 of the 11 charges against him, including genocide, and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Following the verdict, Pettigrew was called upon for expert analysis, appearing on one of the most popular talk shows in the Balkans, seen by Bosnians around the world, and now with over 20,000 views on YouTube.

Lecture poster, Professor David Pettigrew in Bosnia

Earlier this year, in July, Pettigrew was in Bosnia for about three weeks, during which time he gave lectures and interviews and engaged in activities around genocide recognition. He gave three lectures: one for KRUG 99, an association of independent intellectuals in Sarajevo; one for the International University of Sarajevo Summer Program; and one for the American University in Bosnia Summer Program. His lectures largely addressed obstacles to justice and reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He also gave three interviews, two for television and one for an academic journal, Novi Muallim.

During the July trip, Pettigrew also met with representatives from the International Commission on Missing Persons, the United Nations Development Program, and the European Delegation in Sarajevo. He attended a book launch by a genocide survivor and met with a foreign affairs adviser to the Bosnian president. In Višegrad, he went to see the new 15-foot-tall Russian cross that had been erected in honor of the Russian volunteers who served (that is, “committed atrocities,” says Pettigrew) with the Bosnian Serbs. Pettigrew calls the cross “another example of the glorification of the perpetrators.” He traveled to Srebrenica in order to help receive 71 coffins of genocide victims who had been identified for burial this year. He was an invited guest at a commemoration ceremony on July 11 with genocide survivors and dignitaries from around the world.

Pettigrew was also able to visit a new museum, a permanent exhibition installed in February 2017 in the Potočari Memorial Center in Srebrenica. He was seeing the museum for the first time, after having edited all the texts in the exhibition, the first permanent comprehensive educational exhibition of the Srebrenica genocide. He also proposed the title for the exhibition: “Srebrenica Genocide: The Failure of the International Community.” Instead of the word “war,” he proposed “Serb aggression,” or “genocide.” Instead of “fighters,” he referred to the armed militias that defended the civilians of Srebrenica as “defenders.”

The language used to describe what happened in Srebrenica matters, Pettigrew says. Different groups use the words “war” and “genocide” to describe the same events. “My research has addressed the extent to which the rhetoric of the ‘90s has been in full operation since 2007,” he says, “with the glorification of war criminals, genocide denial, threats of secession, a referendum challenging the authority of the national court, and many other provocations attempting to prevent refugee return.”

Professor David Pettigrew laying flowers in Bosnia

At the memorial service Pettigrew attended in the Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial Cemetery in July, people were burying their loved ones whose remains had been exhumed from mass graves and identified for burial. At one point, after Pettigrew had helped one family bury a loved one’s remains, a man stopped him and said “I know who you are and what you are doing, and I want to thank you for everything you are doing for my country [Bosnia]. I only ask that you promise that you will never give up.” Pettigrew promised the man he would not.

“Sometimes,” he says, “people ask me how I keep going in the face of the cruelty of genocide denial, the glorification of war criminals, and other human rights violations in Republika Srpska, along with the numerous tactics designed to intimidate Bosnian Muslims from returning to their former homes. Given the circumstances, giving up is not an option. Elie Wiesel wrote in his Nobel lecture that ‘There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.’ And I am always inspired by young people in Bosnia who lived through the genocide and through exile as refugees and who have kept their hearts open to the hope that telling the truth about the genocide will lead to justice.”

 

Media links:

December 9, interview that appeared in Al Jazeera Balkans website:
http://balkans.aljazeera.net/vijesti/david-pettigrew-rs-je-u-daytonu-nagradena-za-uspjesan-genocid

November 24, interview on popular FACE TV (international program) by host Senad Hadžifejzović, perhaps the most famous journalist in Bosnia. The program, FACE TO FACE, is watched all over the world by Bosnians. It had over 19,700 views on YouTube as of December 1:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kO0uTK7ZYKs&feature=youtu.be

November 22, after the verdict, interview with TV1:
http://tv1.ba/video/gost-dnenvika-david-pettigrew-profesor-filozofije-holokausta-i-genocida/

November 21, interview with Mark Gollum of Canadian Broadcasting Company:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/ratko-mladic-tribunal-verdict-bosnia-1.4410805

November 18, interview with FENA (federal news agency), published in Bosnia press:
http://bnn.ba/vijesti/pettigrew-osudujuca-presuda-mladicu-moze-biti-prekretnica-0

July 10 and July 11, 2017, interview on N1, a CNN affiliate:
http://ba.n1info.com/a173899/Vijesti/Vijesti/N1-na-1-sa-Davidom-Pettigrewom.html

July 2, interview on national TV (TV1) in Sarajevo:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDZw0jznUVQ

Press coverage for the KRUG99 lectures:

November 26, 2017 KRUG 99 press conference and lecture:
http://avaz.ba/vijesti/bih/325545/petigru-podrinje-bi-trebalo-identificirati-kao-nacionalno-spomen-mjesto

From July 2017:

https://www.klix.ba/vijesti/bih/americki-profesor-pettigrew-ne-smijemo-zaboraviti-srebrenicu-jer-je-konstantno-negiraju/170702035

http://ba.n1info.com/a172290/Vijesti/Vijesti/Ne-smijemo-zaboraviti-Srebrenicu-zbog-istine-i-prezivjelih.html

http://www.avaz.ba/clanak/301159/david-pettigrew-ne-mozemo-i-ne-smijemo-zaboraviti-srebrenicu

http://www.bhrt.ba/vijesti/bih/david-pettigrew-ne-mozemo-ne-smijemo-zaboraviti-srebrenicu/ 
(includes a video link)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rachael A. Vaters-Carr, professor of art, and Jeremy Chandler, associate professor of art, are participating in Further On, an art exhibition at the Hans Weiss Newspace Gallery on the campus of Manchester Community College (MCC). The gallery’s curator, Susan Classen-Sullivan, professor of visual fine art at MCC, invited Vaters-Carr and Chandler to take part in the exhibition of works by nine artists who are professors at institutional neighbors to MCC. The institutions being represented are: ECSU, CCSU, SCSU, UConn, and Hartford School of Art, all popular transfer destinations for MCC students. The exhibit, intended as an opportunity for MCC students to connect with faculty from those programs, runs through December 6.

Classen-Sullivan explains, “We have a vibration Fine Art Program at MCC, with over 100 fine art majors. Though many go on to specifically fine art institutions, some transfer to Connecticut four-year schools. The exhibition, along with bringing strong relevant contemporary art to the college and community, serves to acquaint MCC fine art students with the work of professors they may have as instructors in the future. Additionally the exhibition verifies that fine arts professors also have rigorous art making practices.”

snow-cave-mergedJeremy Chandler – “Snow Cave Merged”

Chandler, who teaches photography, says of his work, “My art practice continues to grow out of a desire to express my personal history, experiences and relationships, through a prolonged engagement with place and a process that emphasizes structured improvisation with those I photograph. I primarily engage with my audience through rich, open-ended narrative imagery, which subverts ritualized expressions of masculinity, while creating altered perceptions of space and place.”

vaters-carr_18_document_2017Rachael Vaters-Carr

Vaters-Carr says that her work “is intimately connected to survivorship. Themes of healing, destruction, protection and defense have consistently resonated throughout my work and have always served as the primary catalyst for my art practice. The forms and shapes found in this body of work are inspired by objects that have been altered to include reference points that hint at medical intervention, altercation, and trespass. Over the past few years, I have been obsessively reworking these forms into drawings, paintings, and sculptures that explore personal narrative with more universal implications.”

Learn more about the gallery and the exhibition.

 

Facey: (adjective) When someone’s face can be seen everywhere. — Urban Dictionary, top definition Jason Facey, ’14: choreographer, actor, motivational speaker, and dancer who toured nationally with Gwen Stefani. (See above.)

Photo by Anya Chibis

It’s the last Wednesday in May, and Jason Facey, ’14, is flying out of Los Angeles to dance with Gwen Stefani — one of several pop star royalty headlining at Wal-Mart Stores’ infamous annual shareholder meeting. As far as hump days go, Facey is having a good one, and his week will only get better. On June 2, more than 14,000 shareholders and guests will pack the Bud Walton Arena to cheer on Blake Shelton, Mary J. Blige, Ne-Yo, The Band Perry, and Stefani — the latter joined on stage by Facey, a lead dancer on her 2016 North American tour. “What kind of life is this! Performing for thousands,” says Facey, a quick laugh punctuating his Jamaican accent.

His star is clearly on the rise. Soon after graduating from Southern with a degree in communication and a minor in theatre, Facey came to LA for an internship with the Hallmark Channel arranged by the university’s Department of Communication. Since then his career has unfolded like the plot of a feel-good movie. It’s a musical, one that begins in a small home in Saint Mary, Jamaica, where Facey was born in 1989. He elaborates: “I was born inside of that house not in a hospital. The entire house is about the same size as two dorm rooms put together. My whole family lived there.”

Facey found his passion for performing at an early age. A DJ was playing at a community gathering, and the then 4-year-old talent was dancing his heart out. Gradually everyone stopped to watch. “I remember thinking, ‘This is all right!’” he says, before turning serious. “Music and dance were our escape in Jamaica. It took us away from the poverty we were facing.”

Facey came to the U.S. at the age of 11 with his older brother, joining family in Hartford.  “It wasn’t difficult, but then again it was,” he says, recalling efforts to downplay his Jamaican roots. He was held back twice in fifth grade while learning English, but took the momentary set back in stride. “If that hadn’t happened, I would not be where I am today,” says Facey, who opted to attend Hartford’s Classical Magnet school. The challenging college-prep curriculum focuses on the classics and liberal arts in the middle grades and high school — and includes an award-winning theater program.

Jason Facey, '14, hit the road with Gwen Stefani's national tour and has worked with Alicia Keys, WizKid, Major Lazer, and Pharell.
Jason Facey, ’14, hit the road with Gwen Stefani’s national tour (above) and has worked with Alicia Keys, WizKid, Major Lazer, and Pharell. That’s Facey with country star Blake Shelton at the far right. Photos: Anya Chibis and supplied by Facey

At Classical Magnet, Facey caught the attention of then eighth grade teacher Marydell Merrill, M.S. ’08, who encouraged him to try out for the school production of “A Raisin in the Sun.” “I tried out because of her, but only for the smallest role —  about five lines,” says Facey, who has a speech impediment — a stutter. He got the role and Merrill also named him the understudy for the lead. When said lead was later kicked out of the production, Facey rose to the occasion. “On the day of the show, I figured it out. I don’t stutter at all when I act,” he says.

Soon after he landed the first of numerous roles in Hartford Stage’s summer productions of Breakdancing Shakespeare, which combine the Bard of Avon’s works with breakdancing and hip-hop.

Facey applied to Southern at the suggestion of his high school soccer coach, whose brother had attended the university. At Southern, he joined the Crescent Players and continued acting, his first role playing Cassius in “Othello.”

Still something was lacking. “I was used to dancing every day, whether at a party or for Hartford Stage. I didn’t know dancing was a career choice, but I knew I missed it,” he says. In 2009, he teamed up with three other Southern students —Isaiah Lyte, ’11, Jesse Kroll, ’14, and Muonia Wiley —  to start the university’s Symphonic Pulse Dance Company (SPDC). The group, which blends different genres of dance including hip-hop and street-style, is still going strong today.

Facey’s internship with the Hallmark Channel was another college highpoint. “It showed me a whole new world. I learned what goes into making a movie — and I learned that acting is what I want to do,” he says.

He stayed in Los Angeles when the internship ended, and was working at a city call center when he had an epiphany. “I remember thinking, ‘What am I doing here. I have a college degree and I have talent.’” He drew up a list of goals: Get acting and dance agents; work as a motivational speaker; and build the ‘So Facey’ brand, playing off his surname.

“I see Facey as standing for ‘Faithfully Accomplishing Challenges Every Year,’” he explains.

He also kept dancing, letting off steam at Federal Bar, a North Hollywood club that holds throw-back Thursday dance nights. Facey doesn’t drink or smoke. He does, however, “dance like crazy,” and at the urging of a club friend decided to try out for a video. Then fate stepped in. “The choreographer at the audition was Fatima. The. Legendary. Fatima. She has worked with everyone,” says Facey of the famed artist who has collaborated with Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani, Britney Spears, the Black Eyed Peas, Usher, Prince, Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, Mary J. Blige, and others.

Fatima, named one of Entertainment Weekly’s “100 Most Creative People in Entertainment,” saw something in Facey, and gave him and the two friends he auditioned with roles in Pharrell Williams’ ”Freedom” video. It was Facey’s big break. He was signed to a major agency; performed at the BET [Black Entertainment Television] Awards and the Video Music Awards; and booked a commercial for Comcast Xfinity.

Jason Facey, '14, dancing on the street in LA

Then Gwen Stefani entered the picture. Facey was signed as a lead dancer in her “Misery” video, and went on to tour nationally with the star, traveling across the U.S. and Canada from July through November 2016. He continues to perform with her as needed and has nothing but praise for his experience on the road with Stefani: “She’s an artist in the truest sense — awesome and adorable. She’s very talented but also very down to earth. She has spent years working incredibly hard to be standing in the light she’s in today,” he says.

Facey’s own light is shining brightly. In addition to dancing, he hopes to break into acting. “I’ve used skills gained at Southern in video production to promote myself,” he says of a series of short comic skits he’s produced. “I’ve had about 12 go over a million views,” he says of the videos, many of which play on his Jamaican roots and dance talents. [Be warned, some are racy and include explicit language.]

He’s also moved on to motivational speaking, incorporating dance in his presentations. “I love the idea of being able to inspire somebody the way that I was inspired . . . to do what Ms. Merrill did for me,” he says of his former theater teacher.

Facey has reached another milestone, appearing in a national advertisement for Old Navy. In the spot, a traffic light is the site of an impromptu dance party. Facey kicks off the action, launching himself off the front of a car in to the street.

Meanwhile, he continues to dance. In addition to teaching classes, he is studying dance — something the self-taught performer hadn’t done before coming to LA. And while nothing thrills like booking a performance with the likes of Alicia Keys, WizKid, and Major Lazer, he says he’ll always dance for the joy of it. “I still love it,” he says of hitting the club. “It is the only thing I can control 100 percent . . . where no one can tell me what to do. I was always a freestyler.”

Cover graphic for Southern Alumni Magazine, Fall 2017 issue