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School of Education

Jessica Fressle

Student Jessica Fressle, a member of the women’s basketball team and an education major, is tackling the challenges of student teaching online, as the COVID-19 pandemic has closed public schools and shifted Southern’s coursework to a virtual environment.

Fressle, a senior from Levittown, N.Y., student teaches fifth grade math at Pond Hill Elementary School in Wallingford, Conn., and volunteers with the Hamden Transition Academy, helping students with disabilities. Now she is teaching her students from her home in Levittown, and she talks about her experience in the article, “Jessica Fressle Shares Her Experience As A Student Teacher During The COVID-19 Pandemic” (Southern Owls, April 14, 2020).

Fressle on the basketball court at Southern

Congresswoman-elect Jahana Hayes, '05, visited with School of Education students and faculty on a 2016 campus visit, following her selection as National Teacher of the Year.

Southern alumna Jahana Hayes, ’05, became the first Southern graduate to be elected to national office on November 6, 2018, when she won an election to the U.S. House of Representatives for Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District. The historic nature of Hayes’ win extends beyond Southern, as she is the first African American woman to be elected to represent Connecticut in Congress.

A former history teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, Conn., Hayes first received national attention in 2016 when she was selected as National Teacher of the Year. After receiving that honor, she  embarked on a yearlong campaign representing teachers and advocating on behalf of students, and sharing her inspirational life story in forums ranging from “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” to U.S. News and World Report.

That story begins in Waterbury, where Hayes was raised and ultimately would return to teach. “Like every teacher, I started as a student and like many students I know what it feels like to have a dream and exist in an environment where nothing is expected to thrive,” she has said, describing her early life in the projects “surrounded by abject poverty, drugs, and violence.”

Education provided an alternative future. Hayes remembers caring teachers who lent her books, provided guidance, and shared stories of their own college experiences. As a teenager, Hayes became pregnant and was transferred to an alternative education program. It would be years after graduating from high school before she enrolled at Naugatuck Community College, initially telling no one out of a fear of failure. But the determined young woman was successful, and after earning an associate degree, she transferred to Southern where she graduated magna cum laude.

Hayes launched her career in New Haven, then returned to Waterbury, where in addition to teaching history, she was the chairperson of the School of Academic Renown program for gifted students at Kennedy High. The community-minded educator also served as co-advisor of the Helping out People Everywhere (HOPE) club, and considers “giving back” to be a vital component of the educational experience.


The American Council on Education (ACE) has selected Stephen Hegedus, dean of the School of Education at Southern Connecticut State University, as one of 45 emerging college and university leaders for the 2018-19 class of the ACE Fellows Program, the longest-running leadership development program in the United States.

Established in 1965, the ACE Fellows Program is designed to strengthen institutions and leadership in American higher education by identifying and preparing faculty and staff for senior administration positions through an intensive nominator-driven, cohort-based mentorship model.

Stephen Hegedus

“Southern was proud to nominate Dean Hegedus for this prestigious fellowship,” said SCSU President Joe Bertolino. “During nearly four years leading our School of Education, Stephen has demonstrated leadership and vision and a true commitment to providing expanded educational opportunities to historically disadvantaged populations.”

Among recent initiatives, Hegedus has led a scholarship-based collaborative effort with the region’s school districts to increase the number of minority teachers in elementary and secondary education. He has also been one of the prime movers in the construction of the new Strong Communications Magnet and K-4 Lab School on Southern’s campus – a signature academic partnership with the city of New Haven and its school system.

More than 2,000 higher education leaders have participated in the ACE Fellows Program over the past five decades, with more than 80 percent of Fellows having gone on to serve as senior leaders of colleges and universities.

“For more than a half-century, the ACE Fellows Program has been a powerful engine fueling the expansion of a talented and diverse higher education leadership pipeline,” said ACE President Ted Mitchell. “We are excited to welcome this new class of Fellows and look forward to each enjoying a transformative experience that will help advance individual leadership readiness while also enriching the capacity of institutions to innovate and thrive.”

Celebrating its centennial in 2018, ACE is the major coordinating body for all the nation’s higher education institutions, representing nearly 1,800 college and university presidents and related associations. It provides leadership on key higher education issues and influences public policy through advocacy.

Hegedus’ ACE fellowship will begin in August and he will be on leave from Southern during the fall semester, returning mid-January. During the placement, he will observe and work with the president and other senior officers at his host institution, attend decision-making meetings, and focus on issues of interest.

“When he returns, Dean Hegedus will bring back valuable experiences in innovative programming and institutional advancement that will help further our mission both in the School of Education and campus-wide,” President Bertolino said.

Before joining Southern, Hegedus was a professor of mathematics and mathematics education at the University of Massachusetts (UMass), Dartmouth, where he was the founding director of the Kaput Center for Research and Innovation in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education. Named the UMass Dartmouth Scholar of the Year in 2009, he previously held appointments as a research fellow, educational consultant, and lecturer at the University of Oxford in England.

Southern has been training teachers since its origins in 1893, and it consistently produces the largest numbers of teachers, principals, and school administrators in Connecticut through its School of Education.

High school valedictorians 2016

When Miguel Diaz was 7 years old, he moved with his family from Puerto Rico to the U.S. He spoke only Spanish and was taught in a bilingual classroom for two years. But by fourth grade, his lessons were entirely in English — and, in 2016, he delivered the valedictory speech at the graduation ceremony for Bullard-Havens Technical High School in Bridgeport, Conn. Today, Diaz is a talented, hard-working member of Southern’s Class of 2020 — on track to become the first in his family to earn a four-year college degree.

A fellow member of the Class of 2020, Kyley Fiondella — the valedictorian of H. C. Wilcox Technical High School in Meriden, Conn. — shares his commitment. “I’m also a first-generation college student,” she says. “My parents have always been very driven. ‘Do your best in school. Go to college. Make your life better,’ they told me. It was a big motivation.”

Fiondella — a student in Southern’s Honors College — has wanted to be a nurse since childhood. She enrolled in her high school’s Health Technology Program and, at the age of 15, became a certified nursing assistant. Today, she works at Montowese Health and Rehabilitation in North Haven, in addition to answering phones at a pizzeria and attending school full time. With her pre-acceptance into Southern’s Nursing Program, she moves one step closer to realizing her dream. “I almost cried when I received the letter,” says Fiondella, who hopes to work in pediatrics.

Diaz also plans to work with youth — as a high school Spanish teacher. It’s an aspirational shift for the polite young man who, until recently, envisioned a career in automotive technology. “My parents are my mentors,” he says of his father, a janitor at another nearby university, and his mother, who cares for children for a living. “They left Puerto Rico in search of more opportunities,” Diaz explains. “They inspired me to get an education.”

In high school, Diaz interned at BMW. Today, the full-time student helps finance his education by working 30 hours a week at Pep Boys, an auto parts and services retailer. Automobile technology remains a strong interest, and he speaks with pride of his brother who attended Gateway Community College and works at Nissan.

But for Diaz, the promise of a teaching career has taken hold. “I grew up in a low-income community. Some of my friends weren’t focusing on their studies, especially in middle school. They would get in a lot of trouble, surrounded by violence and negative influences,” says Diaz. “As a teacher, you support students — give advice and help them to keep moving forward. Education is the key to success.”


Kyley Fiondella, Class of 2020

On her High School Valedictory Speech

“It went well. I’ve always been super-nervous when speaking in front of people — but I’ve also been pretty good at hiding it. . . . My main message was about the importance of finding your passion, and then, if possible, following through and turning it into a career.”

The Road to Southern

“During my application process, I decided that Southern was my first choice, primarily because I am extremely close with my family and wanted to study close to home. I also have a job and volunteer with my church, which I didn’t want to give up. I was able to keep doing all the things I loved and still go to a great school.”

Best Part of Being an Owl

“I like all of the activities. It’s so easy to get involved. Southern really focuses on student involvement.”

Well Rounded

On campus, she’s joined the Intervarsity Southern Christian Fellowship and the Program Council, which organizes entertainment and educational activities for students and the community. She also is active at her church, serving as a teen leader and a lead singer.

Advice to Students

“Find the reason behind what you’re doing . . . something that motivates you. Then all of the hard work — the studying, the note taking, the homework — becomes easier.”


Miguel Diaz, Class of 2020

On his High School Valedictory Speech

“In the beginning of the speech, I was really nervous. But as I went on, I felt more comfortable. It was basically inspirational . . . to keep moving forward. You never know what you’ll be able to accomplish in life.”

The Road to Southern

“I wanted to major in Spanish secondary education, and I heard that Southern was a great school for teachers. It also was close to me, and I wanted to commute.”

He’s looking forward to ____________:

“Joining a club or organization at Southern . . . perhaps, OLAS [Organization of Latin American Students].”  He also is active at his church, serving as a teen leader, and playing guitar and piano.

Advice to Students

“I would say to really focus on school. In the end it will definitely pay off — and always remember that you can do more than you think can.”

Alumni Counselor with First Lady Michelle Obama
Photo: American School Counselor Association

Southern pride is running sky high, with Colleen Palmer, M.S. ’90, 6th Yr. ’93, and Jahana (Flemming) Hayes, ’05, respectively named the 2016 Connecticut Superintendent and Teacher of the Year, and Megan Johnson, M.S. ’98, 6th Yr. ’99, honored as the 2016 School Counselor of the Year Connecticut state representative.

Johnson was among a select group of school counselors honored by First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House in January (Johnson is pictured above in the second row from the top, second from the left.).

Alumni librarians are feeling the love as well. Congratulations to Diane Brown, ’95, M.L.S. ’04, and Elizabeth G. Rumery, M.L.S. ’05, two of only 10 librarians from throughout the nation to receive the “I Love My Librarian Award.” The competition, which is overseen by the American Library Association, recognizes librarians who have transformed lives through education. Here’s more on the honorees.

Connecticut Superintendent of the Year

Colleen Palmer, M.S. ’90, 6th Yr. ’93

colleen-palmer-200x255Superintendent of Weston Public Schools Colleen Palmer is no stranger to success. In Newsweek magazine’s most recent rating of high schools in the U.S., Weston High was top in Connecticut and 47th nationally. Palmer, a 30-year education veteran has received personal accolades as well, including being named the 2016 Superintendent of the Year by the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents. “I have always loved being an educator, from being a teacher, a guidance counselor, a principal, an assistant superintendent, and a superintendent. In each of those roles you can positively influence the lives of children. I love my work,” said Palmer, quoted in the publication Westport Now. In July, she will begin serving as superintendent for the neighboring town of Westport.

2016 Connecticut Teacher of the Year

Finalist for National Teacher of the Year

Jahana (Flemming) Hayes, ’05

Social studies teacher, John F. Kennedy High School, Waterbury

Johana-Hayes-200x255The first in her family to attend college, Jahana (Flemming) Hayes transferred to Southern after earning an associate degree from Naugatuck Valley Community College. Raised in Waterbury, she credits teachers with inspiring her to dream big. “Teachers exposed me to a different world by letting me borrow books to read at home and sharing stories about their college experiences,” writes Hayes. After beginning her teaching career in New Haven, she returned to Waterbury where she has taught for the past 11 years. In addition to her classroom duties, she was the lead teacher for the district’s after-school programming for seven years and is working to further minority teacher recruitment and retention. “I’ve been telling my students for years that excellence happens here every day. Our students need to know that they have value and can make a difference in the world. This honor makes that real for them,” says Hayes. She is one of only four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year Award, which will be announced in April.

2016 School Counselor of the Year State Representative for Connecticut

Megan Johnson, M.S. ’98, 6th Yr. ’99

King Philip Middle School, West Hartford

megan-johnson-200x255Megan Johnson kicked off the year in high style. Named the Connecticut state representative for the 2016 School Counselor of the Year program, Johnson was among a select group honored at the White House and a black-tie gala held at Washington, D.C.’s historic Union Station. “Going to the White House was an amazing experience,” says Johnson. “It was so nice to see our profession be publicly recognized and appreciated by the First Lady.” Johnson was raised in a family of educators. Her father, David Fox, is a retired history teacher and her mother, alumna Rosemary Fox, ’69, M.S. ’72, also taught before becoming a school counselor. At Southern, Johnson worked as a graduate assistant while pursuing her studies. She credits Professor Emeritus of Counseling and School Psychology Michael Martin, for his mentorship. “His belief in me as a professional helped me gain the confidence I needed to pursue my career and is something I will never forget,” says Johnson, who earned this most recent honor after being named the 2015 School Counselor of the Year by the Connecticut School Counseling Association.

I Love My Librarian Award

Elizabeth Rumery, M.L.S. ’05

Library Director, University of Connecticut Avery Point Campus, Groton

rumery-e-200x255Librarian Elizabeth Rumery has rolled out the welcome mat for students and the community, says Sue Shontell, executive director of the New London Housing Authority, (NLHA), which provides housing opportunities for the elderly, those with disabilities, and low-income families. In addition to welcoming NLHA families and staff at on-campus events, Rumery has encouraged her students to learn the joys of giving back. “She has made the library not only a place of academic learning and support, but a place to learn life lessons as well,” says Shontell. Interested students have attended a presentation by Edward Epps, a representative from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Washington, D.C., and collected cellphones for victims of domestic violence. On campus, Rumery has worked to enhance the library’s physical space and fostered collaborations with veterans, the Rainbow Center, and the writing center. She’s also created a “safe space” in the library, where students grappling with problems and issues will be connected with the appropriate help and resources.

I Love My Librarian Award

Diane Brown, ’95, M.L.S. ’04

Branch Manager, Stetson Branch, New Haven Free Public Library (NHFPL)

brown-diane-200x255When members of a recent focus group were asked to describe what they loved most about the Stetson Branch library in New Haven, their answer was lightning fast: “Miss Diane!” Many echo their enthusiasm for Diane Brown, who is widely credited with transforming the library into a safe, nurturing oasis for the inner-city Dixwell neighborhood — an area burdened by poverty, high unemployment, and low literacy. Working with the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, for example, she helped establish an afterschool tutoring program for Lincoln Bassett School as well as a satellite branch library within the school. Other initiatives she’s helped forward include family nights, health fairs, the International Festival of Arts and Idea’s Pop-Up Festival in the Dixwell neighborhood, and much more. Dawn La Valle, director of the Division of Library Development for the Connecticut State Library, who nominated Brown, notes: “Her commitment to the community she was born and raised in is unbreakable, and it goes well beyond the walls of the library.”



Southern’s educator preparation programs have received full continuing approval until September 2019 from the state Board of Education.

The board found that Southern met all state standards and fully addressed the areas in which the state Department of Education sought improvement when it granted the university’s programs probationary approval last fall.

Southern also earned a full, five-year national accreditation under the rigorous standards of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) in late 2014. That reaccreditation was administered by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

“We are very pleased that our professional education unit has received full approval from the state, and we look forward to further enhancing our program in the spirit of the continuous improvement model that is at the heart of successful educator preparation programs,” said SCSU President Mary A. Papazian.

“I thank School of Education Dean Stephen Hegedus for his leadership, and the faculty and staff in our schools of Education, Arts & Sciences, and Health and Human Services for their dedication to maintaining our time-honored standards of excellence,” President Papazian said.

“Southern has been the frontrunner in educator preparation in our state for the last 120 years, and our graduates will continue to teach and lead in Connecticut’s schools.”

The SCSU School of Education prepares the largest number of education graduates for teaching positions in Connecticut. In addition to elementary, secondary and special education programs, it prepares students for careers in such fields as athletic training, educational leadership, human performance, and counseling and school psychology.