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Alumni

In the heart of New Haven, two Southern graduates are lifting up their community through separate organizations — both dedicated to the greater good.

Once labeled a "difficult' high school student, Adam Christoferson, '10, now uses his talent to help others through Musical Intervention, the New Haven-based nonprofit organization he founded.

During the worst days of his childhood, Adam Christoferson, ’10, turned to music as both his anchor and escape hatch. As a kid, he recalls living with his mom, who had schizophrenia, 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. When his mother’s illness progressed, Christoferson spent time in foster care and eventually moved in with his grandmother.

Music became a lifeline. Coming from a musical family — his uncle is New Haven-born singer-songwriter Michael Bolton — Christoferson learned to play drums as an 8 year old and later took up several other instruments. “It was my expression. It was the way I communicated in the world,” says Christoferson, now 34. “When there was absolute chaos all around, music kept me together and kept me healthy. It kept me, me.”

“I wanted my life to contribute more than a job.” — Erik Clemons, ’04, CEO and president of ConnCAT
Erik Clemons, ’04, grew up poor in Norwalk, Conn. By the time he was a teenager, his father had disappeared and his family moved to Stamford, where he shared a cramped, one-room apartment with his mother and three siblings. In the next few years, the family moved a lot. Clemons bounced from school to school — a different one for each year of high school — and the instability was reflected in his grades.

In spite of those experiences, both men persevered. Today they are each successful social justice entrepreneurs in the Elm City, running organizations that help people, including many facing extremely difficult life challenges. Clemons, 52, helms the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT), a nonprofit that provides after-school arts programming for at-risk youth and job training for unemployed and underemployed adults in the health and culinary fields.

Christoferson, meanwhile, shares the therapeutic power of music with New Haven’s homeless and recovery population through Musical Intervention, a drug and alcohol-free space in a downtown storefront on Temple Street, where people can write, record, and perform their own music. He is now working to expand the concept nationally.

Both men say Southern played a big role in their success, citing mentors who recognized their potential and steered them toward life-changing internships. “What happened to me at Southern is that I found out I had some ability. I had some competence,” says Clemons. “There were just some incredible people who left an indelible mark on me.”

Erik Clemons, ’04, CEO and president of ConnCAT

Following the call
Clemons says his upbringing left him ill-prepared for college, so after high school, he worked various jobs to support himself before landing a position as a mail sorter at the U.S. Postal Service in Stamford. Married and raising four girls, he’d stay there for 16 years, but always had bigger dreams. “I wanted my life to contribute to something greater than a job,” says Clemons.

After 12 years at the post office, he decided to follow his calling. He enrolled at Southern as a full-time sociology major, driving to New Haven for classes after work and returning home at night so he could be back at the post office for his 6 a.m. shift.Knowing his desire to work with young people of color, Shirley Jackson, a former Southern sociology professor who was also Clemons’ adviser, recommended him for an internship at the youth-development organization LEAP (Leadership, Education, and Athletics in Partnership) — where he would eventually rise to become a board member and then Connecticut executive director.

In 2009, his work at LEAP caught the attention of Carlton Highsmith, a retired New Haven businessman who was trying to replicate an acclaimed New Hampshire job training program in the Elm City.Highsmith asked Clemons if he would help him build and run the program. Clemons said yes, and in 2011, he became ConnCAT’s founding chief executive officer. The nonprofit began with the after-school program and adult courses in phlebotomy and medical billing and coding, and has since added a culinary program, a student-run restaurant, and a high school entrepreneurship camp. Southern hosted the camp in July. In January, ConnCAT scored a $1 million grant from KeyBank to further grow the program.

Asked about his favorite success story, Clemons points to two of his adult students, one in phlebotomy and another in medical billing and coding, who now are teachers in the program.“It’s not just about job training. It’s about how can we get people to see that there are possibilities beyond the conditions they see. That’s kind of the story of my life as well,” he says. “I never thought about being a CEO or founding CEO of anything,”adds Clemons. “I was able to do some really amazing things because people noticed me. That’s it.”

Adam Christoferson, ’10, founder of Musical Intervention

‘He gave me a shot’
On paper, Christoferson says he didn’t appear to be “college material” either. Branded a difficult student” and channeled into special education, he knew his GPA and test scores couldn’t get him into Southern. So he pleaded his case to Richard Farricielli, then the interim vice president for student and university affairs. Christoferson told him about a teen center he was trying to launch in East Haven and how he wanted to one day do something that would change the world.”

“He gave me a shot,” recalls Christoferson, who was granted conditional admission. Once on campus Christoferson immersed himself in student life, becoming a resident adviser, joining student government, and starting an Ultimate Frisbee team. But a few years in, he lost his way. He took time off to live in Hawaii. He fell into depression. “I was reading Deepak Chopra and trying to get my life together. I really didn’t know what my path was,” he says.

Eventually he returned to Southern, still unsure about his future, until he accidentally stumbled on a link for information on recreation and leisure studies while registering for classes. (Today, it’s the Department of Recreation, Tourism, and Sport Management.) “I just clicked on it and it opened up all these key courses that were, basically, what I’m all about,” he says. He decided to pursue recreation therapy and began to excel academically.

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 would be 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, where he continues to see miraculous transformations through music. “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.” ■

The sky’s the limit for Gabriel Geist, ’17, and Jack Dowe, ’17, co-founders of FlyReal, a full-service drone marketing and consulting company.

The FlyReal team includes [from left] two alumni of Southern’s School of Business — Gabriel Geist,’17, and Jack Dowe, ’17 — and fellow partners Justin Kegley and José Alvarez de Lugo [missing from photo].

You know your college business course is a standout when it inspires you to launch an actual business. So it was for Jack Dowe, ’17, and Gabriel Geist, ’17, who on April 12, 2017, exited Management 450 — Business Policy and Strategy — and headed to a study room in Buley Library to incorporate their new company.

“How’s that for a founders’ story?” asks Dowe of the resulting enterprise — FlyReal, a marketing and consulting company that specializes in drone video and photography. Based in New Haven, the company works primarily with the real estate industry, but has expanded into general marketing. Soon after taking to the skies, the FlyReal team has completed projects in 12 states for clients that include the KeyBank Foundation and commercial real estate leaders Marcus and Millichap, Cushman and Wakefield, Northside Development, and the NNN Pro Group. “The biggest kick for me is that we are helping to define an entire industry,” says Dowe.

A partnership forms
The FlyReal story began in a classroom — a Saturday session of the aforementioned Management 450, taught by Linda Ferraro, assistant professor of management. All business majors are required to complete the capstone course, which challenges teams of students to “run” a simulated business — a sensor company with about $100 million in initial hypothetical sales. Working online and in the classroom, each team draws on everything learned in previous business courses: accounting, economics, management, marketing, and more to operate their “sensor company” as successfully as possible.

The business-strategy simulation — called Capstone™ — is fittingly challenging. It was originally developed by Capsim for corporate management training, used by companies like Microsoft, General Electric, PwC, and Samsung. “It’s used in quite a few MBA programs,” says Ferraro. “It definitely requires students to up their game.”

Dowe and Geist were placed on the same Management 450 team. The senior business majors hadn’t previously met but had a lot in common — specifically a commitment to their studies. Dowe transferred to Southern from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he received a scholarship after graduating summa cum laude from Hamden Hall Country Day School. It had seemed a dream scenario. But the fit wasn’t right, and he made the difficult decision to leave for New Haven.

At Southern, everything fell into place. Dowe was named one of eight School of Business Ambassadors — a leadership-development program — and was invited to Tokyo, Japan, to explore international business through a program led by alumnus Austin Auger, ’78. Dowe ultimately graduated summa cum laude.

Gabriel Geist was a transfer student as well, enrolling at Southern after taking classes at Middlesex Community College. He also studied abroad, spending a semester at the highly regarded EDHEC Business School in Lille, France. As a Southern student, he tutored classmates at the Academic Success Center, completed two tax internships, and served as treasurer of SUMA Marketing (Southern’s chapter of the American Marketing Association) as well as the Accounting Society. He also worked part-time as a ballroom dance instructor —managing his busy schedule and graduating cum laude.

The two dedicated students took Management 450 in their final semester — and they gave it 110 percent. They each worked near the New Haven green, and would sometimes meet for lunch to discuss the project. One day, Geist shared an idea he’d had while studying abroad in France: a drone marketing company.

“The most important thing I learned in Management 450 was to view my learning outside of the context of the classroom,” says Gabriel Geist, ’17, (right) with Jack Dowe, ’17, (center) and Justin Kegley.

Dowe was intrigued and the student teammates soon became real-life business partners. They found an initial investor, purchased the required equipment, and within months FlyReal was open for business.

“The most important thing I learned in Management 450 was to view my learning outside of the context of the classroom,” notes Geist. “I give credit to Linda Ferraro and her discussion-based learning style for our success in developing our business idea.”

Their former professor is thrilled but not surprised to learn about FlyReal. Dowe and Geist did well in the class, ending the business simulation with more than $400 million in hypothetical sales over eight simulated years — a 300 percent increase. “Both are extremely intelligent and exceedingly professional,” she says. “Jack [Dowe] has the ability to unite people around a common purpose. He has great energy and enthusiasm — and a level of curiosity that inspires him to ask questions without fear,” says Ferraro.

Her opinion of Geist is equally telling. “Gabe is extremely thoughtful and analytical. He integrates information so well and is also curious, but in a less extroverted way.” They are, she notes, a good team.

Which leads us to today. Challenges remain — including balancing the demands of holding traditional corporate positions while running their own business. Dowe is a multi-family analyst at M&T Realty Capital Corporation and Geist is an international tax associate with RSM US, where he previously interned.

They are also entrepreneurs. As managing partners at FlyReal, they work alongside partners José Alvarez de Lugo, director of business development, and Justin Kegley, creative director, who pilots the drones.

Dowe and Geist say the opportunity for future success is their ultimate inspiration. They hope to expand FlyReal’s focus and work with hotels, resorts, golf courses, and more. They also would like to segue into industrial applications such as mapping, zoning, and surveying.

“Right now, drones are largely for hobbyists,” says Dowe. “But in 10 years, every industry is going to have an application for a drone.” He pauses, then asks a hypothetical question: “When that time comes, who is going to have a platform of FAA- [Federal Aviation Administration] certified, experienced drone operators — one that is large enough to meet that huge need? There will be very few. And if you can be one of the top 10, you’re all set.”

Want to succeed in life? “Stay curious,” says Rick Capozzi, ’83, who shares the secrets to surviving and thriving in today’s rapidly changing business world in his new book: “The Growth Mindset.”

Alumnus Rick Capozzi graduated from Southern Connecticut State University's School of Business in 1983. Today, he's a leader in the world of finance.

As a high school football star from northern New Jersey, Rick Capozzi, ’83, was being actively recruited by several NCAA Division I universities when he broke his back playing in an all-star game at Giants Stadium. He recovered from the injury, but was no longer a top Div. I prospect. Southern, however, was interested and Capozzi soon was playing in New Haven.

“The first year was tough,” says Capozzi, of his shift in plans. “But I came to love Southern.” Majoring in business administration, he played football for the Owls for three years. He also was a nationally ranked power lifter and served as a residence hall adviser. The latter, he says, provided a crash course in leadership and responsibility.

The skills honed on campus fueled Capozzi’s post-graduation success. He held senior management positions at TD Private Bank, Merrill Lynch, UBS, Wells Fargo, and other industry leaders. His tenure at Morgan Stanley helps illustrate the breadth of his experience. As national sales manager at the organization, he was responsible for the firm’s network of 8,000 financial advisers in nearly 500 offices across the U.S. — and as Morgan Stanley’s regional director, he oversaw more than $35 billion in assets.

Building on such experience, he founded Capozzi Advisory Group in December 2014. “After 30 years on Wall Street, I wanted to be a bit more entrepreneurial,” he says. Today, he’s a sought-after consultant and speaker, who’s made more than 1,200 keynote presentations throughout North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. He’s also a successful author, whose most recent book, “The Growth Mindset: Leadership Makes a Difference in Wealth Management,” outlines strategies for success.

In November, Capozzi, who serves on the Business Advisory Council for Southern’s School of Business, returned to campus to meet with students. Following he shares a few of his thoughts on thriving in business today.

Tell us about the book’s title: “The Growth Mindset.”
Capozzi: Because of technology and innovation, we are facing arguably the greatest period of change in the business world in our lives. If you don’t have a growth mindset — meaning if you are not constantly thinking about ways to grow both professionally and personally — you will fall behind in this rapidly changing economy and world market.

Describe someone with a growth mindset.
Two words come to mind: responsibility and curiosity. Someone with a growth mindset wants to know more about the world around them and they take full responsibility for their lives. They always believe they can improve.

What are some of the changes shaping business?
In my world [economics and finance], the disruption comes from technology — algorithms and robo-advisers. You call in, basically talk to a computer, and based on your responses, it will, in essence, try to manage your money.

In other industries, some of the best examples of disrupters are Uber, Airbnb, Amazon, and Tesla, the electric-auto manufacturer. Think about how much disruption Uber has caused — and they are able to do so because of technology. Uber is basically a technology company. We have no idea where artificial intelligence will lead to in the future. But we know that technological innovation is not going away. It’s going to accelerate.

What’s the effect on the personal level?
Everyone in the business world needs to ask: Can a robot or technology do my job? If the answer is, ‘Yes’ or ‘At some point soon,’ you are probably going to become less relevant unless you take steps.

You stress the importance of the human component as a way of maintaining a competitive edge.
Communication skills are paramount in this economy — and I stress this whether I am talking about leadership with college students or management directors. Seventy percent of our economy is service-based. If you don’t have the right interpersonal and soft skills, it will be hard for you to compete.

People generally do business with people they like. It’s best to form those relationships face to face. . . . If I look you in the eyes when negotiating, I can learn more in three seconds than through 25 email exchanges.

Any quick tips?
I am a big proponent of mentors. Based on the research I did for my book, you are never too old for mentors. I know CEOs who have run organizations with 50,000 employees — leaders who are 70 years old — who still have mentors. Being a mentor is also important. I consider myself a student teacher.

Did you have a mentor at Southern?
I had several. One was my philosophy professor Dr. Mohan [professor emeritus of philosophy]. He opened doors to a world that didn’t exist to me before. I’m from the Class of 1983 — but philosophy is still at the core of what I do today.

Rick Capozzi during a recent visit to Southern, where he is a member of the School of Business Advisory Council.

To what do you attribute your success?
It all started with a belief system. I was absolutely certain that if I wanted something badly enough, no one — no matter who they were — was going to tell me I wasn’t going to achieve it. That belief came from my parents and my siblings. They stressed a strong work ethic and the ability to persevere no matter what.

Also, if I didn’t know something, I was not afraid to ask. I wasn’t afraid of surrounding myself with people who were in some way smarter than me. In fact, my goal was to hire people who had a skill set or knowledge that I didn’t.

Finally, I never stopped learning — and I’m not just talking about the business world. It’s all about curiosity.

What’s something you’ve learned about recently?
My daughter wanted to go shark diving with great whites, so I went. Why? Because I was curious to see what great whites look like from a foot away.

Any final thoughts?
You never master it all. The best professionals, when they are in their 80s and 90s, will tell me, ‘Rick, I am excited about today, because I’m probably going to learn something new.’

New Haven is a foodies' paradise — with Junzi Kitchen among students' favorite new dining hotspots. Alumnus Andrew Chu, '10, MBA '13, the restaurant's director of operations, reflects on the excitement of working for the successful startup — and how Southern helped prepare him for the feast.

Photo: Junzi
Andrew Chu, '10, MBA '13, is director of operations at Junzi Kitchen, a student favorite in New Haven.

Andrew Chu, ’10, MBA ’13, is energized by the lightning-fast pace of a restaurant startup. “If I went to a 9 to 5 desk job, I would be incredibly bored,” says Chu, director of operations for Junzi Kitchen. The restaurant, which was founded in New Haven in 2015 by a group of Yale University alumni, has already expanded to include several New York locations, all specializing in northern Chinese cuisine. Chu was among Junzi’s earliest team members — drawing on experience gained from his family’s restaurant background and two Southern business degrees. Both prepared him for a rewarding, demanding schedule. At Southern, he was a graduate intern, a resident hall adviser, an orientation ambassador, and treasurer of the Cultural Affairs Club and the Ski/Snowboard Club. “I was one of those kids,” says Chu, who also worked off campus — and served on what is now the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees. In the following interview, he shares his thoughts on Southern and business.

How did you become involved with Junzi?
It was really through networking and living in New Haven for so long. I moved to New Haven when I was 17 — so I’ve been in the city for some time. Mutual friends were working with Junzi’s co-founders at the very beginning. One of my friends, Reed Immer, who is a New Haven local, signed on to do marketing. He introduced us, and my background fit. My upbringing was in Chinese restaurants. My family had a restaurant in Middletown, Conn., called Debbie Wong Restaurant. We also had a few in Massachusetts. They were banquet-style restaurants — most 65 – 70 seats — with the location in Middletown seating about 300 for weddings, Lion’s Club meetings, and other events. So it was more of an operation.

So it’s in your blood.
It’s kind of ironic. My dad will say to me: ‘You didn’t want to take over the restaurant when you were younger. Then you went, got all of this college education, and now you want to get back in the restaurant industry.’ But Junzi is very different from your traditional, neighborhood Chinese restaurant. I saw a great opportunity for growth and forward momentum.

What are your responsibilities with the restaurant?
I am one of the operations managers for the company. In 2015, there were only seven of us. With a recent hire, we are at 17 employees now, so we’ve grown considerably in three years. In the beginning, I oversaw store operations. But now I am happy to be transitioning into more of an HR [human resources] role, which I enjoy immensely. Working closely with people on communication, making sure policies are followed. And I still get to have my hand in a little bit of everything else.

You earned two business degrees at Southern. Did you always plan to major in business?
From high school on, I had a business track in mind. I was interested in marketing as an undergraduate. In terms of the MBA degree, I was given an amazing opportunity to become a graduate intern for Judicial Affairs [at Southern]. So I was earning my degree while gaining experience.

Noodle bowls at Junzi

How did Southern help prepare you for your career?
Serving on the board of trustees for what was then the Connecticut State Universities system was instrumental — especially doing so while going through Southern’s business program and earning my MBA. I was able to take what I was learning in the classroom and apply it to a real-world setting. That experience definitely taught me to hold my own . . . to be able to walk into a room of senior business leaders and understand what they were talking about. I remember there being a $171 million budget just for Southern. So I gained an understanding of those type of numbers, and I was part of meetings and conferences where all different aspects of business were discussed. It was very exciting. [laughs] It was also very nerve-wrecking. But it gave me experience.
I also had side jobs while attending graduate school. I was a sales rep for a snow board company based out of Waterbury, Vt., and worked at a retail store out of Berlin, Conn. I like to stay busy.

Was there anyone at Southern who had a particularly strong influence?
The board of trustees was a huge influence.Then, without question, my graduate internship with Student Affairs — and all of the administrators I worked with [through the division]. Chris Piscitelli [assistant dean of students and director of student conduct], Denise Bentley-Drobish [director of student involvement], Sal Rizzo [director of new student and sophomore programs], and Eric Lacharity [interim associate director of student involvement] — all had such a major impact. A lot of it was them stressing the importance of getting involved and networking. That helped me exponentially get to where I am today.

The restaurant also takes reservations for a monthly chef’s table, featuring culinary specialities.
The restaurant industry has a reputation for being very demanding. I’d imagine that would be even more so with a successful startup.
At the very beginning, it could be discouraging: having six-day work weeks and 10-plus hour work days. Without question, you do have to work extended hours. But it helped build me into a better person. I’m more professional and more organized. I’ve learned so much from them. And, honestly, I live for this. If I went to a 9 to 5 desk job, I would be incredibly bored.

Looking forward, where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
I’d like to ride this out to see where it takes me. I spent a lot of my earlier years — in my 20s — figuring out what I actually wanted to do. I always had a focus on business — and once I found this [opportunity], it was really exciting, especially coming in close to the beginning. I think I was employee number three. I went from working with our chef, cooking in the owners’ apartment. We’d be there at 8 a.m. testing recipes — and the co-founders would be sleeping after staying up all night talking with investors in China. Now two stores are open. Our NYU location is about to open. [The store is slated to open this summer.] And we just locked in a new location on 41st Street between Bryant Park and Times Square. We are working on a new round of fundraising. . . . There are so many really exciting things happening – and I only see this company growing. In terms of opportunities, this is going to give me the greatest amount of growth and the greatest amount of challenge – both personally and professionally. To be able to come in at the ground level has been incredible. I want to invest as much time and effort to seeing Junzi grow. Nothing would be more satisfying to me than to one day say, ‘We have 100 units throughout the U.S. — if not internationally.’

Any advice for students?
I would tell them to get experience while they are earning their degrees. I know that it is incredibly challenging for a lot of young people to know what they want to do — to think, for example, I want to ultimately be the VP of human resources for a major company. That’s why I encourage people to start exploring different aspects of business while they are going to college. I thought I wanted to do marketing — and low and behold . . . I’m interested in HR.
It’s also very much about networking. Building relationships. Putting yourself out there, even if it makes you nervous. Networking is what helped me get to where I am today. It’s what’s helped the business [Junzi] expand.

We’ll end with something light. What’s your favorite dish at Junzi?
Junzi has a “build your own”-style menu. I really like the jaja noodle bowl. I build that with spring noodles, the jaja sauce, pork as the protein — all stir-fried with a little bit of cucumber and scallions to top it off. That’s my go-to combo.

Photos: Junzi 2018

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.

Collin Walsh, '08, competed in the 55 meters at the James Barber/Wilton Wright SCSU Alumni Track and Field event on November 11 at Moore Field House

Former Southern track and field All-American Collin Walsh, ’08, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and has been paralyzed from his mid-section to his toes, competed in the 55 meters at the James Barber/Wilton Wright SCSU Alumni Track and Field event on November 11 at Moore Field House. Owl Nation cheered him on every step of the way, especially when he successfully completed the 55 meters at the event.

Walsh was an All-American during his undergraduate career at Southern and competed with the cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field squads. He was an All-New England performer and conference champion, and was also recognized with numerous academic honors. Walsh also completed an internship at the White House during his senior year.

After graduation, he went on to serve as a Milford police officer and pursued additional graduate coursework at UConn, Indiana University and abroad in India. In April 2016, he headed to Washington, D.C., to work for Diplomatic Security Service as a special agent specializing in counter-terrorism.

However, after just days there, he became stricken, and during his hospitalization was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Walsh became paralyzed and unable to walk. Since then, he has undergone extensive medical treatment, even going to India for treatment.

SCSU President Joe Bertolino with Collin Walsh, '08, Jim Barber, and coach

Walsh’s participation in the event garnered local media attention:

New Haven Register: “Former SCSU runner with MS participates in alumni track meet”
By Clare Dignan

Fox 61: “Former police officer, track star with MS walks in track meet”

News 12: “Former Milford officer who was told he’d never walk again defies odds”

Milford Patch: “Former Milford Cop Doesn’t Let Crippling Illness Slow Him Down”

 

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

Ten Southern students recently received prestigious internships or full-time positions with Deloitte. Yes, we’re counting!

Louis Signor, ’17, who graduated with a degree in business administration, is one of numerous Southern alumni who recently joined Deloitte.

It’s the Holy Grail for many accounting students: a position with one of the “Big Four” accounting firms — Deloitte, PwC, Ernst & Young, and KPMG — widely recognized as the largest professional services networks in the world. In 2016, they earned a combined revenue of $128.2 billion through work in auditing, advising, consulting, tax services, and more.

Deloitte is the largest of the Big Four in terms of revenue ($36.8 billion in 2016) and number of employees (244,400) — the latter figure receiving a boost from a growing number of Owls who recently joined Deloitte’s Stamford, Conn., office as interns and full-time employees.

“Once I became an accounting major, my only goal was to work for a Big Four firm. The goal now is specifically [to become] a partner at Deloitte,” says Kayla Seminoro, ’17, who graduated from Southern with a degree in business administration and a concentration in accounting. In September, she moved closer to realizing that dream, joining Deloitte as an audit assistant after interning there.

Her interest in accounting came relatively late in her college career. After transferring from Central Connecticut State University, she took her first college-level business course at Southern — an accounting class taught by Janet Phillips, professor of accounting and chair of the department. Several years later, Phillips recommended that Seminoro apply for an internship with Deloitte.

“The best advertisement for Southern’s accounting program is definitely our students,” says Phillips. Her confidence in Seminoro was well placed. After interviewing online and in person, she was selected for the highly competitive internship, which began at Deloitte University, The Leadership Center, a 700,000-square foot training facility in West Lake, Texas.  She was then assigned to a client-team, receiving extensive real-world experience. “Deloitte values the importance of networking and making genuine connections with the professionals around you. This is one of my favorite aspects about both the firm and my internship experience,” says Seminoro.

Such positive feedback is icing on the cake for Lori Charlton, a partner at Deloitte based in its Stamford, Conn., office. Southern flashed on Charlton’s radar screen several years ago when she was working with an especially talented young colleague. “I asked her where she went to school, and she said Southern,” she says.

Soon after, Deloitte made its first campus presentation. “We had a very good turnout. The students were well-dressed and well-prepared, with resumes in hand. They asked great questions and were very enthusiastic,” says Charlton. “The faculty also came, showing a lot of support for their students and for us being there.”

In September 2017, Deloitte made its fourth campus visit — and many Southern students now know a classmate who’s interned or become an employee there. “They’ve been terrific,” says Charlton of the students and alumni who’ve received offers in both the audit and tax practices. “They interviewed very well and were very competitive. . . . It’s been a great success from my perspective. We’re really encouraged by our partnership with the university and want to keep the relationship going.”

Deloitte rates first among accounting companies for formal training, according to Vault, which annually ranks firms on numerous criteria. The services provider also finished among the leaders in the “prestige” and the overall accounting categories.

Muhamad Chowdhury, ’16, knew of Deloitte’s reputation. Before graduating in December, he’d explored different career options, including a potential winter internship with the organization. But after an in-depth interview process, Deloitte offered him a full-time position as an audit assistant in financial services. He started in January 2017.

His success comes after a period of intense struggle. In 2014, Chowdhury was a full-time junior at the University of Connecticut, among the first generation in his family to attend college. His parents both immigrated from Bangladesh to the U.S., where they built a successful life operating several Subway franchises in the Wallingford and New Haven areas. Then the family patriarch became seriously ill. Chowdhury left UConn, returning home to help run the family business. He also enrolled at Southern — working full time, attending school full time, and commuting.  “It came out of a difficult situation, but I have to say it was the best decision I ever made,” he says.

At Southern, he majored in business administration with a concentration in economics — a program he says develops a comprehensive understanding of the business world. He also volunteered with the campus VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program, which helps those with low-incomes, disabilities, and limited English. “My career is not in taxation, but the knowledge and experience I gained translate to any business environment,” he says of the program overseen by Frank Bevvino, associate professor of accounting.

Today, things are looking up. His father has recovered, and Chowdhury’s transition to Deloitte has been remarkably smooth. “After working for Deloitte for six months, I can absolutely say that this was the right decision for me. It’s been priceless in terms of the experience and many benefits,” he says.

Lubna Sparks, ’17, also transferred to Southern — and says her interest in Deloitte peaked after the organization made a presentation to the SCSU Accounting Society. After interning at the company last year, she’s been offered a full-time position. But she asked to remain an intern while preparing for her examinations to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) — a request Deloitte honored.

A fellow graduate of the Class of 2017, Louis Signor is preparing for his CPA examinations as well. It’s a welcome development for the talented alumnus who had worked at Home Depot for about six years when, in 2016, his position as an asset manager was eliminated.

“I’m not a typical student,” says Signor, who graduated from Southern at the age of 29. He’d attended Utica College right after high school, but didn’t return after his first year. Instead, responding to his father’s request to “get a job,” Signor applied at Home Depot — and steadily moved up the corporate ladder. Armed only with a high school degree, he ultimately found himself overseeing asset protection for all stores in the Norwalk, Conn., and New York Metro area — a market grossing $105 million.

“At the age of 24, I had a really good job making much more money than I thought would be possible,” says Signor. A watercooler conversation with coworkers changed his perspective. “The general consensus was that they felt stuck. They were paid well. It wasn’t a bad situation, but they didn’t have alternatives,” he says. He began attending Southern part-time, using Home Depot’s tuition reimbursement benefits. Then in August 2016, Home Depot underwent a corporate restructuring and his position was eliminated. Signor took the compensation package and, as a Southern senior, began attending the university fulltime for the first time ever.

In May 2017, Signor became the first in his family to earn a college degree, graduating magna cum laude. He interviewed with six employers and received five job offers — including one from Deloitte. He started in September.

[From left] Students Luke Velez, Brooke Davis and Lyman DePriest interned with Deloitte over the summer, while student Yenny Bayas completed an earlier internship during the busy tax season.
[From left] Students Luke Velez, Brooke Davis and Lyman DePriest interned with Deloitte over the summer, while student Yenny Bayas completed an earlier internship during the busy tax season.
The Interns

Deloitte consistently earns top ratings for its formal training program, a benefit experienced firsthand by a growing number of Owls, including four who participated in coveted summer internships in 2017. The interns — all business administration majors with a concentration in accounting — are students Luke Velez, Lyman DePriest, and Brooke Davis, and alumnus Nicholas Intino, ’17.

Velez and DePriest completed Deloitte’s Discovery Internship, with time spent exploring two company functions — audit and tax services. The hands-on learning kicked off at Deloitte University, the Leadership Center, in West Lake, Texas, where they connected with other high-achieving students from around the U.S.

“Before heading to Deloitte University, I heard so much about it that my expectations were through the roof. . . . Those expectations were met,” says DePriest.

During one team-building exercise, the students were placed in groups and challenged to develop a presentation. DePriest’s team took first place out of 25, earning an assortment of Deloitte gear.  The victory was particularly sweet for DePriest. His team’s presentation focused on a startup mobile application that he is developing (myhypeeye.com) — Here Are Your Parties and Events Everywhere.

Looking forward, there is certainly a lot to celebrate. After completing their summer 2017 internships, Intino and Davis received offers to join Deloitte’s audit practice. Meanwhile, Deloitte’s Discovery Internship will continue for DePriest and Velez. Both chose audit as their area of focus and are invited to intern with Deloitte again: Velez in summer 2018 and DePriest in the winter. “It’s a very unique experience because it allows you to get a glimpse of both aspects of accounting to possibly steer your career decision-making before you graduate,” says DePriest.

Southern senior Yenny Bayas, who interned with Deloitte in the winter of 2017, agrees, noting the experience confirmed her career aspirations. Although she’s wanted to study business since high school, she was unsure what specialization to select. But she loved her accounting classes — and a trip to a major European accounting conference with Robert J. Kirsch, professor of accounting, and three other Southern students cemented the deal. Southern was the only college or university from the U.S. at the event. “That’s where I really fell in love with accounting,” says Bayas. “But my internship at Deloitte made that even clearer.”

Like the others who won internships after completing several rounds of interviews, Bayas is a hard-working, high-achieving student. She — and classmate Velez — are School of Business ambassadors, two of only nine in the selective leadership program. At the age of 23, she has also been a licensed realtor for several years. In sum, Bayas — a native of Ecuador and a first-generation college student — is no stranger to a challenging workload. Still, she concedes that her Deloitte internship, conducted during the busy tax season, was very intense at times. “I loved the challenge,” she says.

In terms of a future career, she says being an accountant who specializes in real estate would combine her passions. But she’s also drawn to audit services. “I like that you are with a team and that you are investigating,” says Bayas. “You see the financial statements, think about the facts and numbers, and combine them into the story to make sure it all makes sense. I discovered that I really enjoyed that at Deloitte — and that’s one of the things I loved most about my internship.”

When it comes to keeping communities safe and healthy, graduates of Southern’s public health programs are leading the charge as area health directors.

As director of the Westbrook Health Department in Connecticut, Sonia Marino, '09, M.P.H. '14, oversees public health for more than 6,900 residents.

As the first full-time health director in Westbrook, Conn., in more than a decade, Sonia Marino, ’09, M.P.H. ’14, is working to develop a community health plan that could touch on everything from opiate dependency and emergency preparedness to outdoor activities for children.

“Public health is my passion,” says Marino, who took the job in January 2015, replacing a part-time director. “It’s not just about wells and septic and food. It’s so much more.”

Marino envisions a forward-looking health department for her town, with public education and prevention programs, and social media campaigns tailored to the community’s needs.

She credits Southern, where she earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public health, for shaping her comprehensive approach and for providing the broad background she needs to deal with the numerous issues that come across her desk, from landlord-tenant conflicts to restaurant inspections.

When it comes to keeping communities safe and healthy, graduates of Southern’s public health programs are leading the charge as area health directors.

“The professors are great,” says Marino. “I had a wonderful relationship with all of them.”

Marino is one of about 20 Southern alumni now serving as health directors across Connecticut’s 74 local health agencies. Many more hold jobs as deputy directors and sanitarians — the latter, a public health worker with knowledge of environmental and public health issues such as food protection, water quality, product safety, and more.

Peggy Gallup, professor of public health and coordinator of the undergraduate program, says she was contacting Connecticut health directors for a project recently and was struck by how many she recognized as former students.

Professor of Public Health William Faraclas says producing graduates who would lead local health efforts in the state was a dream of founders who launched the program in 1980.

“We dreamed big and our dream came true,” says Faraclas, who chaired the department for 33 years.

Southern’s was one of the first undergraduate public health programs in the United States when it began, Faraclas says, and it continues to serve as a national model. The Master of Public Health program — state law requires local health directors to have the degree — was added at Southern in 1990.

While many graduates work in hospitals or nongovernmental organizations, Southern graduates are particularly suited for jobs in local health departments because of the program’s strong focus on community-based aspects of public health.

Meanwhile, hands-on programs, such as the popular two-week field study trip to Guatemala, foster the resilience and “roll- up-your-sleeves” attitude needed for jobs in public service.

Students must also complete an internship that takes them to the front lines of public health practice, says Faraclas.

It was an internship during his senior year at Southern that launched Robert Rubbo’s career with the Torrington Area Health District in 1996. Two decades later, he is running the place.

After graduation, Rubbo, ’96, M.P.H. ’02, was offered a position as a sanitarian trainee and worked his way up, becoming a sanitarian, deputy director and, in 2013, the director.

Comparing notes with colleagues who attended other schools, Rubbo says he realizes how much Southern stands out in terms of quality.

“I really feel like they have one of the more challenging M.P.H. programs out there,” Rubbo says.

Gallup notes Southern’s relationship with local health departments is reciprocal. Health directors often email her if they are looking for interns or resources for projects.

One graduate student worked with a health department to survey pediatricians about their lead-screening practices for young children; another created a brochure on healthy homes and household environmental hazards. In Westbrook, Marino says Southern students have helped her conduct a community health assessment in town.

Maura Esposito, ’90, M.P.H. ’11, director of the Chesprocott Health District, which covers the towns of Cheshire, Prospect, and Wolcott, says she recently had several Southern students working for her as interns, and would love to work with more.

“I take Southern interns all the time because I know the program, and I know the quality of work that is expected,” Esposito says. In return, she gives them plenty of opportunities to work in the trenches.

“Anybody who comes through my department should be able to get a really good job,” she says. ■

Haitian native Rey Alabre, ’09, is living the American dream — in the spotlight as one of the top franchise owners in the nation.

Rey Alabre, alumni, school of business

Husband and wife Nathalie and Rey Alabre, ’09, receive the H&R Block National Franchisee of the Year award.

Growing up in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Reynold “Rey” Alabre, ’09, was surrounded by inspiration. “My mother was a single parent, raising my sister and me in poor conditions,” says Alabre. “But she always had a business mindset. She did everything she could as far as businesses to help support us. Selling clothes, shoes, candies.” Eventually, the hardworking mom began traveling to the Dominican Republic — located next to Haiti on the island of Hispaniola — to buy items less expensively and earn a greater profit.

Her determination left a lasting impression on Alabre, who today runs a successful H&R Block franchise in Bridgeport, Conn. In October, H&R Block, the global tax services provider, named Alabre the National Franchisee of the Year, recognizing him for excellence in the one to two store category among more than 1,500 franchisees considered for the honor.

The achievement is particularly sweet for Alabre, who crossed the ocean and numerous hurdles on the way to success. “My first day in the U.S. , it wasn’t that great,” says Alabre, who flew to the U.S. alongside his sister in winter 2002. It was the first time Alabre saw snow, and he was wearing a thin T-shirt, comfortable attire in his island homeland. He expected to be met at the airport by his father, who he hadn’t seen in about 15 years. But there were complications. Alabre’s father hadn’t yet told his wife in the U.S. that the teens were coming and didn’t travel to meet them — and so the two waited alone at the airport. Neither spoke English. Eventually, they fell asleep. Alabre was 18.

Today he shares the story matter-of-factly, smiling when he recounts the high point of that day. “A limo driver at the airport heard my sister and I speaking Creole. He asked us where we were from and our names,” Alabre says. The driver coincidentally knew another Alabre — the teens’ half-sister Angelina — and he drove them to her home.

Despite this inauspicious start, Alabre swiftly found his way. He attended Bassick High School in Bridgeport, Conn., rapidly learning English. “I’m a poet, so I picked it up quickly by writing,” he says. He also loved music, but at the urging of family and friends decided to study computer science at the University of Bridgeport. Later realizing the computer science field wasn’t a good fit, he transferred to Southern to major in business administration. When he took an accounting class, he knew he’d found his calling.

Life wasn’t easy. Alabre was homeless at one point, living in his car for several weeks. But he persevered. He worked full time while attending school, holding posts as a security guard and as a factory worker. (While still a student, he applied to work at H&R Block but was turned down.)

At a Southern professor’s recommendation, he began volunteering with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which offers free tax help to people with low incomes, disabilities, and limited English. The following year, VITA asked him to manage the site where he volunteered. When others outside of the VITA program began asking Alabre to complete their taxes, he took the leap and started a business. “I was a junior then,” he says. “One of my instructors at Southern told me exactly what to do — step by step. I rented an office space in Bridgeport for very, very little. In the beginning, it was just me . . . But then we needed to move to a bigger office.”

Eventually he partnered with H&R Block. “It is a very good relationship,” says Alabre. “They are very supportive of what I am doing in the community.” Which is quite a lot. Building on experience gained volunteering in college, Alabre supports numerous community organizations, from the Connecticut Food Bank to the Bridgeport Public Library. He also has launched his own foundation, Mind is Power, a nonprofit committed to expanding educational opportunities.

Business continues to thrive as well. The H&R Block National Franchisee of the Year award caps off a string of honors for Alabre, who also received a Mission: Possible Award from the Bridgeport Regional Business Council and was a finalist in the Celebrating Diversity in Business competition run by Business Journals.

About seven years ago, he also became a U.S. citizen. “That was one of my proudest moments,” he says. “There is no way I could accomplish all that I have in Haiti. I moved to the U.S. for hope — for a better life — and I have found that.”