School of Health & Human Services

Celebration of Excellence: J. Philip Smith Award for Outstanding Teaching

2019 Recipient: Dr. Kyle O’Brien, Assistant Professor of Social Work

About the award

The J. Philip Smith Award for Outstanding Teaching is presented to one full-time faculty and one part-time faculty member for exemplary teaching. This is one of SCSU’s highest honors, as faculty are recognized at the undergraduate commencement and receive an honorarium of $2500. Full-time and part-time faculty at all ranks who are currently employed at SCSU are eligible.

About the recipient

Dr. Kyle O’Brien’s teaching style of participation, discovery and discussion has brought classroom exercises to life for a multitude of students. According to one student, “his passion for social work shows through in each and every one of his lessons.”

Called “skillful and engaging” by a colleague, Dr. O’Brien brings a wealth of expertise to the classroom thanks to his education, his multidisciplinary background as an occupational therapist, his extensive knowledge of the health field, and his collaborative endeavors. He took a lead role in recruiting students to participate in the palliative care workshop collaboration with Yale University School of Medicine, and as a result, it has become an annual event. He contributed to a number of curriculum initiatives that benefit students. He also initiated the submission of a Faculty Development grant aimed at resolving conflictual conversations in the classroom; the grant brought a panel of social work faculty experts to campus to provide training.

Dr. O’Brien’s purposeful encouragement has impacted students both in the classroom and beyond. As one student noted, “This was the first time a professor impacted my view of life outside of the classroom, by teaching me the value and power of providing empathy toward others.” In short, he truly embodies the core values of social work.

Dr. O’Brien received a Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work, a Certificate of Integrated Primary and Behavioral Health Care, and a Master of Social Work from New York University; a Doctor of Health Science from Nova Southeastern University; a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy from Sacred Heart University; a Connecticut Certificate of Gerontology and Certificate in Substance Abuse Counseling from Gateway Community College; and a Bachelor of Social Work from Southern Connecticut State University.

 

Celebration of Excellence: Robert E. Jirsa Service Award

2019 Recipient: Dr. Michele Vancour, Professor of Public Health

About the award

Named in honor of the late Robert E. Jirsa, former Faculty Senate President and P & T Committee Chairman, the Robert E. Jirsa Service Award is given annually to a full-time faculty member who has made extraordinary contributions and demonstrated outstanding leadership in his or her service to the university.

About the recipient

Dr. Michele Vancour, professor of Public Health, has been with Southern since 1998. In those 21 years, her exceptional leadership and service to the university — and community — has not gone unrecognized. In 2012 Dr. Vancour received the Outstanding Academic Advisor Award and was nominated again in subsequent years. In 2015, she received the CT American Council on Education (ACE) Women’s Network, Distinguished Academic Woman in Higher Education Leadership Award. She has been nominated — multiple times — for the J. Philip Smith Outstanding Teaching Award and nominated for the New England College Health Association President’s Award.

Over the years Dr. Vancour has been either elected to, appointed to, invited to, or has participated in, at least 28 different committees, including the Food Pantry committee, the CT ACE Women’s Network Chapter at Southern, the Barnard Scholarship committee, the Undergraduate Public Health Program committee, and many, many more.

Her credo, that “service is (and has been) the foundation of my professional and personal work,” is evident in her life’s choices, and her focus on the needs of Southern’s students, faculty, staff, alumni, and visitors bespeaks to her high regard for the Southern community as a whole.

Dr. Vancour recalls Robert E. Jirsa for “his authenticity, deep care and concern for Southern, its students, and employees, and his commitment to and work for positive and impactful change on campus.” Her dossier, which displays evidence of this philosophy of service, heartily exemplifies the tenets of the award she is now receiving.

Dr. Vancour received a Ph.D. in Health Education from New York University; an M.P.H. in Community Health Education from Southern; and a B.A. in English from Central Connecticut State University.


 

Members of the class of 2018 in the BSN nursing program

The Nursing Department has been informed by the State Board of Nurse Examiners that the traditional BSN degree program graduates of 2018 had a 100 percent first-time pass rate with NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses). Although Southern’s pass rate last year was remarkable at 95 percent — the highest of all public nursing programs in Connecticut, including UCONN — this is the first time since 2008 that graduates of the 4-year traditional program have achieved 100 percent.

The 2018 first-time pass rate for ACE (Accelerated Career Entry) program graduates was 96.77 percent and first-time FNP (Family Nurse Practitioner) certification pass rate was 91.7 percent, also excellent results.

Associate Professor of Nursing Lisa Rebeschi, department chair, says, “I could not be any more proud of the students and my faculty colleagues. The success of the SCSU Nursing Department is a true testament to the commitment and talent of our students and the dedicated faculty who are privileged to learn with and from them. I must also recognize the incredible support from University administrators who have provided the Department with the necessary resources required for academic excellence in nursing education.”

In light of the stellar performance of Southern’s nursing grads, the website RN Careers has written: “Congratulations to @southernct for being one of the best ranked nursing programs in the country and the #1 best ranked nursing program in Connecticut for 2019 with an impressive overall ranking of 99.26%.

“Our 4th annual competition looked at 1,949 nursing programs and ranked them on metrics such as first-time NCLEX passing rates, accreditation, and more.

https://www.rncareers.org/rn-programs/connecticut/

“Share and Like this accomplishment earned by Southern Connecticut State University for preparing some of the best nurses in the country.”

 

 

 

 

Celebration of Excellence: Joan Finn Junior Faculty Research Fellowship

2019 Recipient: Dr. Victoria Zigmont, Assistant Professor of Public Health

About the award

SCSU recognizes the importance of faculty scholarship and creative activity in furthering its mission. The Joan Finn Junior Faculty Research Fellowships aim to support this goal by providing recipients with a significant amount of reassigned time at an early stage in their careers at Southern.

About the recipient

Dr. Victoria Zigmont, assistant professor of Public Health, has amassed significant data on college student food insecurity, which is defined as “the uncertainty of being able to acquire enough food, or enough nutritious food, needed to maintain a healthy diet.” Her research on solutions to student food insecurity seeks to expand upon her previous research, analyzing data about risk factors and food insecurity status and identifying solutions to the problem.

According to Dr. Zigmont’s notes, although college students experience food insecurity at higher rates than the national average, they are often deemed ineligible to receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. A 2016 Southern-wide study conducted by Dr. Zigmont revealed that 30 percent of undergraduate students reported some degree of food insecurity; furthermore, that that insecurity leads to lower average grade point averages, increased anxiety or depression, and poor nutrition.

In addition to further measuring the effect of food insecurity on academic performance and identifying variables in existing data associated with food insecurity, Dr. Zigmont’s project will culminate in two manuscripts for peer-reviewed journals and a conceptualized grant for external funding to expand this work.

According to Dr. Zigmont, “This project has implications to benefit students across the country… [It] will share new knowledge with educators, public health providers and the general academic community to show what the disparities in academic outcomes are for students who are food insecure.”

Dr. Zigmont received a Doctor of Philosophy in Public Health from The Ohio State University; a Master of Public Health in Health Promotion from Southern; and a B.S. in Chemistry and Physiology & Neurobiology from the University of Connecticut.

Celebration of Excellence: Million Dollar Club

2019 Recipient: Alycia Santilli, Director of CARE

About the award

The Million Dollar Club is calculated to include all grants and awards brought into Southern by faculty over the years. This club originated in SPAR in 2004 as a means of publicly recognizing faculty who have consistently pursued grants throughout the years as well as those who secured a single or multi-year large award.

About the recipient

As Director of the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (CARE) at Southern, Alycia Santilli transforms her everyday ethos — directly involving people most impacted by health disparities in the development of solutions to create health equity — into tangible successes.

Ms. Santilli began her relationship with CARE, which works collaboratively with community organizations and neighborhood groups across New Haven to improve the health of the city’s residents, in 2007 after its inception at Yale. With years of experience as a community organizer and as a coordinator of research projects at the Yale School of Public Health, she was instrumental in providing administrative oversight and strategic direction.

She quickly rose to a leadership position, becoming Director in 2016. She brought to the role all the ingredients for success: more than a decade of experience in community engagement; deep ties to the New Haven community; expertise in community-based intervention development; and a strong educational background in social work.

Under her directorial leadership, Ms. Santilli and the CARE team began implementing a renewed path offered through this unique university partnership. Recently, CARE secured several grants and contracts of varying sizes, including two major sources of funding.

Ms. Santilli also serves as the Principal Investigator for the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute and as the Principal Investigator of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health. This award has the potential to bring more than $3.6 million to New Haven. In its first year, CARE is proud to distribute 38 percent of this funding directly into the community.

As someone who received all of her education at public schools and state universities in Connecticut, and as a dedicated resident of New Haven, Ms. Santilli ’s experience — both hands-on and career-based — have helped her improve the health of the city, and beyond.