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Alumni

Just Bagels President Cliff Nordquist, '90

When Cliff Nordquist, ’90, and James O’Connell, ’90, founded Just Bagels in 1992, philanthropy wasn’t their No. 1 priority — growing the business and paying the bills was. But now that the company has established roots in its Bronx neighborhood, supporting the neighbors has become a part of daily operations, even though business is down 60 to 70 percent.

Until COVID-19 hit, Just Bagels sold their distinctive line of water-bath bagels nationally and internationally to large retailers such as Fresh Direct, Whole Foods, and Starbucks; airlines such as United Airlines; college campuses; Marriott and Hilton properties; and Barnes & Noble cafes in all 50 states. Now, with the market upended by the pandemic, Just Bagels President Nordquist said his biggest revenue generator is QVC.

“We are non-stop with QVC,” he said. “We started with them last May, and it’s what’s keeping us alive.”

The market may be uncertain, but Just Bagels’ continued commitment to the neighborhood isn’t. The company has started donating bagels to frontline workers and nurses in nine local hospitals in the Bronx.

“Being here so long, as you grow, you want to give back, so we love giving back and supporting the local community,” he said. “We have donated to churches, homeless shelters, the local police station, and food pantries, and I thought that would be a nice thing to do, to give something to our frontline workers, so we started. We can’t do it forever, but the neighborhood knows they can come in and we will be there, supplying the bagels.”

Maureen and Dan Rosa with their new daughter, Cecilia Hope (photo courtesy of Connecticut Post)
Having a baby in the midst of a global pandemic isn’t usually among new parents’ plans, but for a Fairfield couple who met as students at Southern in 2006, bringing their new daughter into the world during a time of crisis is a sign of hope.
A Connecticut Post article, “At a time of fear and anxiety, baby Cecilia brings Hope” (Jeff Jacobs, April 7, 2020), recounts the story of Cecilia Hope Rosa, who was born April 2 to Maureen Mazzone, ’10, and her husband, Dan Rosa, ’10, who met at Southern  when she was a sophomore and he was a freshman. They married in 2016 and settled in Fairfield, and Maureen is now an eighth-grade teacher at Fairfield Woods Middle School and Dan is the vice president of Rosa Carpentry, working as a carpenter and business manager. Tragically, Maureen’s father, Gary Mazzone, was among the seven killed when the B-17 Flying Fortress crashed at Bradley International Airport in October 2019.
The Rosas were expecting their first child to be born in mid-April, but baby Cecilia had other ideas: Maureen went into labor on the morning of April 2, and later that day, after she and Dan had made it to Norwalk Hospital, had their temperatures taken at the entrance, and donned face masks, Cecilia Hope came into the world, weighing in at 6 pounds.

Read the full story here.

The Rosa family (photo courtesy Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media)

Vicky Conde in her home in Spain

Spain — one of the nations most affected by the coronavirus pandemic — began a government-ordered nationwide lockdown on March 14, 2020. Southern graduate Victoria Conde, ’17, a native of Madrid, is among those quarantining to slow the spread of the disease. At Southern, Conde was an international transfer student who majored in exercise science and aptly demonstrated her fighting spirit playing soccer for the Owls. Now pursuing graduate studies in sports ethics and integrity at KU Leuven University in Belgium, she recently reached out to Southern via email to talk about life in Spain during the pandemic.

1. What is it like in Spain right now, with stricter quarantine orders?

It seems like in Spain we have reached our peak, so the measurements taken (on March 14th) are showing that it was the right thing to do: only essential workers are allowed outside, like health care, army or workers from supermarkets. Only people who have dogs can go for a short walk (and I have two cats!), and when shopping at the supermarket we have to buy food for days to avoid going often (my family is shopping twice a week, and just one person can go). Most people understand that we have to follow these instructions but many people were caught traveling to their summer homes and were fined by the police.

2. Can you explain some of those traditions, what the people are doing on a regular basis there now to stay positive?

There is only so much we can do from home (note that all these things we are doing were started by the people and not the government):

  • Every night at 8pm people start an applause from their balconies or windows for a few minutes to stop and thank the doctors and nurses that are working non-stop. They chose this time to include kids before bedtime (the first time this happened was at 9pm but social media did the magic to change this into 8pm daily).
  • Also, other staff like police or firefighters are showing up to the hospitals at night and turning their sirens on to thank the health staff.
  • People are volunteering to shop for the elderly in their neighborhoods.
  • People are making equipment from home to donate to hospitals and residences for the elderly, and others are collecting money to buy this equipment and donate it.
  • Health care staff are sending videos saying thank you for staying home (and for the applause).
  • Many Spanish artists started to participate in an online festival (@yomequedoencasafestival), and we could watch them live from home.
  • The “anthem” for the past weeks has been “Resistiré” from El duo dinámico (from 1988), and some Spanish artists released a new version (from home).
  • A very funny one: someone from a private residential complex runs a work out from the common patio so everyone could join from their balconies, and some others have been playing bingo with their neighbors from their balconies.

3. What have you been doing to stay healthy and pass the time?

First thing I did was get rid of my agenda and understood that all my plans for the next few months were over. I was studying abroad in Belgium and I decided to fly home and stay with my parents in Madrid. They were coming to visit me, but we were in lockdown so I went grocery shopping that day and added some Belgian stuff to the basket. We pretended we were in Belgium that day! I also stay busy with online classes and homework, and working out from home.

4. What advice would you give to Southern students?

I would say to take advantage of this situation to do all the things that you never had time to do, whether that means spending some time alone or with your family. I highly recommend this time to try something new that makes your day challenging and your brain to keep working!

Conde’s at-home work space

5. What have you been seeing that is giving you so much hope?

The situation in Spain is very similar to Italy, we are two weeks behind, so seeing how everything was slowly improving in Italy was a good reason to stay optimistic. My mom works at the hospital and she has been the most reliable source to understand how the situation was going. The storm is passing!

6. What hobbies/activities have you started doing?

I have been reading, cooking and watching Netflix, trying to stay away from the news. I already did those things before but my time was limited. I am also doing some coloring because it is therapeutic, and playing some FIFA. I am also in touch with my friends via video calls, and I created a presentation simulating a game (That’s you from PS4) to play with them and it was very fun.

7. You talked about cooking, reading, and Netflix. So far what’s been your best recipe, book, and show?

I made vegan burgers just to try something new because my sister is vegan and they were very good actually! I am now reading Sapiens: From animals into Gods, and I just finished watching Money Heist on Netflix (the best Spanish TV show ever!).

8. What are some of your favorite/least favorite parts about spending so much time at home?

I am enjoying spending time with my parents and cooking for them. They are both great cooks so I get to learn from them. I am missing making plans with my friends and just walking outside. I do not have a backyard so all the fresh air that I get comes through a window in a third floor apartment.

9. How did you feel about the transition to online classes at first/how are you liking it now?

It took my classmates and our professors a few days to master it, and I would much rather have them in class, but it is working for us, we still get to interact with everyone and get the important content.

10. How are you dealing psychologically with so much time indoors?

I am trying to keep a routine. I get things done in the morning like working out and doing some school work to keep the afternoon for leisure. I have a list with little things to do after the quarantine. I also reach out often to friends and family members who work in hospitals, supermarkets or any job involved and send a special thank you to them.

Vicky Conde in her days as an Owl

Local media coverage on Conde:

“Spanish SCSU grad on coronavirus: ‘It’ll get worse before it gets better’” (New Haven Register, April 10, 2020)

 

How's this for true grit? Alumnus and former track star Collin Walsh, ’08, learned to walk again after being diagnosed with a severe form of multiple sclerosis. What's next for the stellar scholar? A highly selective fellowship that will prepare him for a career in the Foreign Service.

Collin Walsh, '08, and his wife, Amika
Collin Walsh, '08, and his wife Amika

Congratulations to Collin Walsh, ’08, who was awarded a highly prestigious Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship for 2020. Designed to prepare outstanding young people for Foreign Service careers, the fellowship is funded by the U.S. Department of State and administered by Howard University. We recently caught up with Walsh, who had just completed a course at the Foreign Service Institute. Here’s what we learned.

The award: Each Pickering Fellow receives $75,000 to complete a master’s degree; two internships with the State Department (one in the U.S., the other overseas); and mentoring and other professional development.

A standout: Only 3.5 of applicants were successful — with the program receiving 844 applications for 30 spots. “My emotions were a mix of elation and peacefulness, as if years of dedication realized their purpose in that instant,” says Walsh of receiving the acceptance letter.

At Southern: As a student-athlete majoring in political science, he served as a White House intern and vice-president of the Pre-Law Society. An NCAA All-American athlete, he was captain of the cross country, and indoor and outdoor track and field teams — and graduated magna cum laude. “Collin’s academic talent is unparalleled,” notes Patricia Olney, professor of political science.

His early career: Shortly after graduating Southern, Walsh enrolled at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, where he studied abroad in India. (He’s proficient in Bengali.) Building on a commitment to public service, he next became a police officer in Milford, Conn., and taught law courses at the Connecticut Police Academy. His tenure with the U.S. Department of State began with an appointment to the Foreign Service as a Diplomatic Security Special Agent.

Challenging times: “Three days after achieving my career dream of being appointed a Special Agent in the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Service, I became suddenly and unexpectedly paralyzed with a disease I did not know I had,” says Walsh. The disease: a severe form of Multiple Sclerosis (M.S.)

Fighting spirit: Told he’d unlikely walk again, Walsh began extensive medical treatment in the U.S. and India. “I was aimless and hopeless until my wife [Amika] shook me back to reality and taught me what it meant to believe and to fight. And those two things we did — all day long, every day — until I was back on my feet,” says Walsh.

On Nov. 11, 2017, Walsh participated in the James Barber/Wilton Wright SCSU Alumni Track and Field Meet, completing the 55 meters as the Southern community cheered on.

Returning to campus: On Nov. 11, 2017, he participated in the James Barber/Wilton Wright SCSU Alumni Track and Field Meet, completing the 55 meters as the Southern community cheered on. Walsh now serves as a Foreign Affairs Officer in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, where his work spans the fields of national security, intelligence, and counterterrorism.

What’s next: Supported by the Pickering Fellowship, he’s pursuing a Master of Public Affairs from Indiana University’s O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

On Southern:  He gives special thanks to Patricia Olney, professor of political science, and Jack Maloney, Southern’s former long-time head coach of cross country and indoor/outdoor track and field.

“Professor Olney’s student-focused enthusiasm convinced me to pursue political science as a major and to dedicate my life to public service. From that point, there was no looking back,” says Walsh.

“Coach Maloney welcomed me into the SCSU athletic family and steadfastly supported both my athletic ambitions and personal development from my first practice. . . . I owe an immeasurable portion of my success to ‘Coach.’”

On sharing his diagnosis: “I believe in the power of story. Anyone with a disability understands the impact of stigma, but I am here to change the conversation: the community of the disabled is powerful,” says Walsh.

Future plans: “It is difficult to imagine literally where I will be in five to ten years, because, by definition, I will be ‘worldwide available.’ However, I can say with certainty that I will be working hard every day in support of our foreign policy objectives,” says Walsh.

Colin Walsh, wedding
“With each step I take, however, I know that it will be better than the last, so I invite the struggle to come. That level of perseverance is attributable entirely to my wife, Amika, for her uncompromising faith and her unwavering support,” says Walsh. The couple is pictured during their wedding.

 

 

 

 

Alumna jewelry designer takes the prize for artistry and entrepreneurship.

Jewelry designer Stephanie Howell wearing one of her creations.

Having spent six years traveling throughout the U.S. and Europe, Stephanie Howell, ’11, has officially arrived as a business owner. In June 2019, she launched her first collection of jewelry through her namesake company S. Howell Studios — and within months was named a top five finalist in the Halstead Grant competition for emerging silver jewelry designers.

Applicants to the annual competition submit a portfolio of their work and answer 15 questions related to their businesses. “Applying for the Halstead Grant is essentially like creating a well-thought out business plan,” says Howell, who won a $500 grant and received national media exposure from the competition.

The recognition was a welcome confirmation for the entrepreneur, who traveled extensively after graduation. She financed her trips by working in restaurants while keeping future business plans in mind. “I set a goal to start turning one of my passions into a career by the time I turned 30,” says Howell. At 29, she decided to devote her career to jewelry design. “Once I was ready to settle down, it felt like a no brainer,” she says.

“I am profoundly inspired by botanical textures. By co-creating with the earth, I’m able to make carefully handcrafted silver fossils,” says Stephanie Howell.

The clues to Howell’s future career were certainly there. Years earlier, as an incoming freshman browsing through Middlesex Community College’s undergraduate catalog, she was immediately drawn to a course in metal and jewelry design. She earned an associate degree and transferred to Southern where she was a studio art major “from day one,” with a concentration in jewelry and metalsmithing.

She recalls a small, tight-knit group of classmates, and cites Professor of Art Terrence Lavin as being “invaluable” in terms of shaping her education. “He constantly challenged me to step outside of my creative comfort zone and become a better artist,” says Howell, who graduated magna cum laude.

She continues to design in metal, valued equally for its permanence and malleability. She uses the lost-wax casting process to create “silver fossils, preserving plants indefinitely.” Botanical details — the delicate veins of an aspen leaf or the floral whorls of lupine — embellish her handcrafted collection of earrings, bracelets, and necklaces, often accented with gold and semiprecious stones.

“By featuring subtle beauty in my work, I encourage people to take a closer look at the world around them,” she says.

A model shows some of Howell's latest jewelry collection.
A model shows some of Howell’s latest collection. “Terry Lavin was my jewelry and metalsmithing teacher the entire time I was at Southern. He constantly challenged me to step outside of my creative comfort zone and become a better artist,” says Howell.

How does music influence those with mental illness? Adam Christoferson, ’10, the director of the nonprofit organization, Musical Intervention, has joined a team of Yale professors looking for answers.

Adam Christoferson, '10, founder of Musical Intervention

Adam Christoferson, ’10, the founder and director of Musical Intervention in New Haven, is working with a group of Yale Researchers to study how music influences people with psychotic illnesses. The project is being forwarded by a $2.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through its Sound Health initiative — a partnership between the NIH and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in association with the National Endowment for the Arts. Philip Corlett, a cognitive neuroscientist and associate professor in the Yale School of Medicine, is the principal investigator of the Yale study.

For Christoferson, the research project will further a long-held commitment to helping others through music. At Musical Intervention, he shares the therapeutic power of music with the community, including New Haven’s homeless and recovery population. The nonprofit organization, located in a downtown storefront on Temple Street, provides a drug- and alcohol-free space where people can write, record, and perform their own music.

Christoferson has felt music’s healing power personally. Much of his childhood was difficult. His mother had schizophrenia, and he grew up in a rent-subsidized apartment on Rock Street in New Haven, on the edge of one of the city’s roughest neighborhoods. His father, a Vietnam veteran, struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder. For Christoferson, music was a source of comfort and escape.

The entire community is invited to jam at Musical Intervention on Thursday nights.

At Southern, he majored in recreation and leisure studies. (Today, it’s the Department of Recreation, Tourism, and Sport Management.) His adviser, James MacGregor, now chair of the department, set him up with an internship at Yale New Haven Children’s Psychiatric Inpatient Service unit, where he was later hired as a recreation therapist, a job that sowed the seeds for Musical Intervention. His first week there, Christoferson noticed a girl drawing a picture of someone singing. “I asked her if she wanted to make music with me,” he recalls. His supervisor gave him permission to bring some recording equipment onto the unit. “And it was a hit,” Christoferson says. “This girl completely transformed, being able to make music and record it.”

His work was later featured in the World Congress of the International Association for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Christoferson was invited to speak at international symposiums.
In 2015, he won a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to work with the homeless population. The following year he opened Musical Intervention.

The organization remains his passion. “There are people who have been homeless for such a long time, they haven’t had a guitar to play. That’s what we provide. There are people who are in crisis with drugs or mental illness and they let [music] go years ago and missed it,” Christoferson says. “While they’re in treatment, they’re able to come to us and regain all of that passion and creativity that was lost.”

In addition to Corlett and Christoferson, the research team includes Michael Rowe, co-director of the Yale Program for Recovery & Community Health; Sarah Fineberg, MD; Al Powers, MD; and Claire Bien. The group is affiliated with Connecticut Mental Health Center, a clinical and research hub of the Yale Department of Psychiatry that is run in collaboration with the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS).

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

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

Southern's Black Student Union (BSU) has supported students, alumni, and the community-at-large for more than six decades. A newly endowed scholarship forwards that important work — while honoring Barbara Matthews, one of the BSU's first advisers.

Barbara Matthews, SCSU's associate director emeritus of counseling

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who understands college students better than Barbara Matthews, associate director emeritus of counseling. “I’ll tell you one thing about Southern students. They come here determined,” says Matthews, who worked with thousands during her 30 years at Southern — including members of the Black Student Union (BSU), which she advised throughout her tenure.

Originally called the Organization of Afro-American Students, the BSU was formed in 1968 and was still a young organization when Matthews came on board in 1972. Its establishment reflected a national movement. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned discrimination in education on the basis of race, color, and national origin. Still, many black students who enrolled at predominantly white colleges and universities faced hostility. In an effort to support students and promote positive change, in 1966, the first Black Student Union in the nation was established at San Francisco State College [now University].*  Two years later, Southern followed suit. “Black students on campus needed direction and a voice. The Black Student Union made that happen,” says James Barber, ’64, M.S. ’79, Southern’s director of community engagement.

Donate to the Barbara Matthews Scholarship Fund during Southern’s Day of Caring.

Throughout the years, Matthews remained a mentor. “We were a force to be reckoned with, I’m proud to say,” recounts Michael Jefferson, ’86, who was elected president of the BSU in 1984. “We had to meet certain challenges, and I don’t know if students today appreciate how difficult it was at times. She [Matthews] was a huge influence. She was my confidente,” adds Jefferson, now an attorney based in East Haven.

Like many BSU alumni, he’s remained active with the organization and was instrumental in setting the groundwork for the scholarship. It began with “Martinis and Wings,” a BSU reunion held at Jefferson’s home in 1997. BSU alumni came to reconnect and raise funds to support students. They also celebrated Matthews, who received an award for paving the way for so many.

In 2019, the fund was fully endowed. The Barbara Matthews Endowed Scholarship was awarded for the first time during the 2019-20 academic year and will continue to benefit students who are active members of the BSU in good academic standing.

The scholarship is a fitting tribute to Matthews, who devoted her career to higher education. A 1968 graduate of Queens College, City University of New York (CUNY), she first worked in academia at a city-run residence hall for college students. Urged on by her coworkers, she earned a master’s degree from Hunter College in 1971, and joined the staff at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, which had just opened its doors as the youngest institution in the CUNY system.

Then she heard about a newly created position at Southern. “Students from the BSU came up with the plan,” recalls Matthews. “They were reaching out for someone to work with them. That’s why I felt an immediate connection, and it hasn’t been broken since. This one caught my heart. It’s been a love affair,” she says.

Several alumni of the Black Student Union (BSU) gather to formally establish the Barbara Matthews Endowed Scholarship, named in honor of the longtime adviser of the BSU. [Seated from left] Matthews and Michele Helms, ’92, an ESL teacher. [Standing from left] James Barber, ’64, M.S. ’79, Southern’s director of community engagement; Attorney Michael Jefferson, ’86; President Joe Bertolino; and Kermit Carolina, ’94, M.S. ’03, supervisor of youth development and engagement with New Haven Public Schools.
Several alumni of the Black Student Union (BSU) gather to formally establish the Barbara Matthews Endowed Scholarship, named in honor of the longtime adviser of the BSU. [Seated from left] Matthews and Michele Helms, ’92, an ESL teacher. [Standing from left] James Barber, ’64, M.S. ’79, Southern’s director of community engagement; Attorney Michael Jefferson, ’86; President Joe Bertolino; and Kermit Carolina, ’94, M.S. ’03, supervisor of youth development and engagement with New Haven Public Schools.

Her career has been a calling as well — one that’s enhanced the lives of generations of students. Southern’s campus has become increasingly diverse in recent years: in fall 2019, about 40 percent of the incoming class are students of color and 21 percent of full-time faculty are minorities. But when Matthews arrived in 1972, diversity was not a campus hallmark. As late as fall 1984, fewer than one in 20 full-time undergraduates was black and fewer than one in 100 was Hispanic. Among the 406 professors at Southern in 1984, only five were black — about one percent.

“Most of us were coming from the tri-state area from high schools where the student body looked very different from Southern,” says Jefferson. “Coming to a place like Southern was sometimes difficult. . . . It was important for us to create a supportive organization to deal with some of the challenges,” he says.

Throughout the years, the BSU, guided by Matthews, promoted inclusivity in countless ways. Noting a dearth of black faculty, the BSU sent student ambassadors to talk with academic department heads about the issue. Concerned about the percentage of black student-athletes who weren’t graduating on time, the BSU worked with the administration to dedicate an academic adviser to them. The group also organized cultural events for the entire campus.

Historically, the BSU’s commitment has extended to the New Haven community as well. Members worked on voter registration and advocated for children at New Haven Board of Education meetings. They also strove to enhance local neighborhoods. Michele Helms, ’92, remembers working on a comparative analysis of a nearby neighborhood while she was attending Southern. She recalls finding a high number of liquor stores and a disturbing lack of resources. It was upsetting and a call to action.

“I continue to hold BSU close to my heart because it was a platform that empowered me to make a difference — and she [Matthews] was a big part of that,” says Helms, an English as a second language [ESL] teacher in Stamford, Conn.

Her sentiment is echoed by Kermit Carolina, ’94, M.S. ’03, who, as a student, was president of the BSU. His memories of the organization include Saturday mornings spent with New Haven children who came to campus for mentoring and tutoring. “We had an opportunity to make an impact on the greater New Haven community. Every year, this commitment was passed down from president to president,” says Carolina — now supervisor of youth development and engagement with New Haven Public Schools.

Through each program and initiative, Matthews kept a careful eye on her students. “We’d be sitting in her office, talking about the BSU. And she’d casually swivel around to her desk, and say, ‘So, how are classes going? How are your grades?’” says Jefferson.

“I had access to their academic information!” Matthews says, with a laugh.

“It really was like having a campus mom,” says Jefferson.

“We never wanted to disappoint you,” adds Carolina.

This enduring, almost familial, connection — fostered by Matthews over three decades and beyond — gives the BSU much of its strength. In October 2018, the BSU held several events in conjunction with Southern’s Homecoming. The BSU tailgate alone drew about 400. Among them was Kendall Manderville, a senior majoring in recreation and leisure studies, who is president of the BSU today and the scholarship’s first recipient. He met Matthews there after hearing about her for years — and notes that the scholarship is inspiring and needed.

“Finances aren’t the only reason students of color might have difficulty staying in school, but they’re a primary issue. All of us have friends who didn’t come back because they couldn’t afford it,” says Manderville.

He continues: “I also feel students of color, especially black students, are not always aware of some of the resources available to them. They are not aware of how many scholarships are out there. So having one that’s just for them, right here at the university . . . It makes a difference.”

Donate to the Barbara Matthews Scholarship Fund as part of Southern’s Day of Caring.

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

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

When disaster strikes, Katherine Bequary, ’93, and David Denino, ’75, M.S. ’76, travel the country and the world — saving lives and providing solace.

David Denino, '75, M.S. '76, worked with many survivors in McComb, Miss., a post-Hurricane Katrina evacuation zone. [below] In Mosul, Iraq, Katherine Bequary, '93, works behind the front lines at a crisis-care clinic run by the organization.

Think of the worst human tragedies of the last 15 years — earthquakes, hurricanes, mass shootings. Chances are Katherine Bequary, ’93, or David Denino, ’75, M.S. ’76, were there to help.

Bequary has traveled the globe as executive director of NYC Medics, coordinating emergency care in places few are willing to go — from earthquake-torn Haiti and Japan to the remote mountains of Nepal. In summer 2018, she returned from one of her most challenging assignments yet: running a crisis-care clinic in Mosul, Iraq, just behind the front lines in the fight against ISIS. Bequary says more than 10 percent of the trauma casualties reported in the city were children, many of whom died before they could reach a hospital.

The clinic, which moved with the fighting, did whatever was needed — starting IVs, applying tourniquets, inserting chest tubes — to stabilize victims and help them survive the journey. Staffed 24/7, it provided life-saving care to more than 2,600 patients in the span of a year, many of whom were civilians shot by ISIS snipers while trying to flee the city.

“Every mission always has a powerful message or takeaway, but I have to say Iraq, by far, has been the most important work I’ve ever done,” says Bequary, 49.

“Not only for the medical intervention our team provided,” she adds, “but for the hope that comes with seeing so many people putting themselves in a conflict zone to help a stranger.”

Psychological first aid
Closer to home, as the mental health lead for the Connecticut/Rhode Island American Red Cross, Denino, 66, manages teams of mental health volunteers dispatched to disaster scenes around Connecticut and the country. He administers what he calls psychological first aid, setting up mental health triage based on patients’ levels of distress. If someone needs medication or a hospital, Denino works to connect them with services in the community.

A licensed professional counselor and director emeritus of counseling services at Southern, he trained as a Red Cross crisis responder following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.

“When I watched the towers go down, I felt paralyzed,” recalls Denino. “The call for help went out far and wide, and I couldn’t do anything because I hadn’t been vetted.”

Too late for 9/11, he was sent to New Orleans a few years later, assigned to the shelters housing residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Subsequent missions included hurricanes Sandy, Irene, and Harvey as well as the mass shootings in Sandy Hook, Conn., and Las Vegas. In Las Vegas, Denino worked in the family assistance center, offering counseling and comfort to people who survived the shooting or lost loved ones. Staged in a conference hall “three times the size of Costco,” he remembers the center being eerily quiet despite being filled with concertgoers and workers, mostly in their teens, 20s, and early 30s.

David Denino, ’75, M.S. ’76, finds a moment of comfort in the midst of helping others.

“A lot of them were struggling a couple of days out with sleeplessness and anxiety,” he says.

In addition to counseling the victims, Denino also kept an eye on the mental health of his fellow volunteers, helping them process their emotions and cope with stress. He earned the 2017 Meritorious Service Award from the National Behavioral Intervention Team Association (NaBITA) for his work in Las Vegas and in Texas after Hurricane Harvey. In 2018, he served as the organization’s president, leading efforts to prevent suicide and violence on college campuses and K-12 schools. In July 2018, the U.S. Secret Service issued a report concluding that the most effective way for schools to prevent targeted violence is with a behavioral intervention team — heightening the focus on NaBITA significantly.

Southern roots
Now living in Wallingford, Conn., with his wife, Vanessa [Pomarico] Denino, ’92, M.S.N. ’98, Ed.D. ’18, and two dogs, Denino traces his interest in counseling to his days as a resident adviser at Southern’s Neff Hall. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in recreation and leisure, he stayed on for a master’s in counseling and landed his first job at Southern right out of grad school.

He spent 37 years at the university, retiring as director emeritus of counseling services in 2009, and he still teaches in the clinical mental health program. In 2007, he received the J. Philip Smith Award for Outstanding Teaching, one of Southern’s top faculty honors. He credits his mentor, James Brine, professor emeritus of counseling and school psychology, with steering him toward higher education.

As the executive director of NYC Medics, Katherine Bequary, ’93, has organized aid efforts around the world, including Nepal.

Bequary, who lives in New York City, came to Southern as a physical education/athletic training major intending to be a physical therapist, but says the university prepared her well for her eventual, if unexpected, disaster-relief career. She credits Gary Morin, professor and chairman of the Department of Health and Movement Sciences, for teaching her that physical and emotional healing go hand-in-hand.

“It’s a big part of what we do [at NYC Medics],” she says. “We’re there to provide the physical care, but it’s so much more than that.”

After graduating from Southern, she held several jobs in the healthcare field before earning a master’s in public health from the University of Connecticut in 2010. She had just finished her thesis when the Haiti earthquake struck, and she learned through a friend that NYC Medics was mobilizing to help.

“I deployed with them and have been involved ever since,” says Bequary. In December 2019, she traveled to Yemen, which has been ravaged by civil war. NYC Medics is working to legally implement a program there and Bequary hopes to return soon.

‘Humbling and inspiring’
Asked why they do what they do, Bequary and Denino offer slightly different takes on the same answer.

“If I could just have people stand in my shoes for one day, they wouldn’t even need to ask the question,” Bequary says. “When people embrace us and open their arms to us . . . it’s the most humbling and inspiring experience in the world.”

She offers a story about a 3-year-old Iraqi boy she found wandering alone at the clinic. Through some detective work, Bequary eventually learned his mother had been a patient, shot in the stomach during a mass casualty incident, one of 60 civilians with serious injuries brought to the clinic in a single day. In the chaos, mother and son had been separated. Although critically injured, the mother survived, and Bequary was there for the joyful reunion: “He hadn’t spoken for three days, but as soon as he saw his mother, he just started crying out to her. He ran over and embraced her. It was incredible,” she says.

Like Bequary, Denino cites the people he helps as his inspiration. “With Katrina, I was talking to people who lost everything — everything — including members of their family or extended family, and the first thing they would do is hug you and say, ‘Thank you for coming here,’” Denino recalls.

He remembers the relief on one woman’s face when he was able to locate her elderly mother in a shelter, and recounts how some neighborhood families brought a home-cooked, fried chicken and biscuits dinner to the volunteers — a welcome change from the military-style MREs [meals ready to eat] they’d been dining on for days.

“You come home and it takes a little while to recover emotionally,” he says. “But when I’m out there, I feel good about it.”

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.