I can hardly believe that the academic year is almost over and summer is fast approaching. Recently we held Honors Convocation, a 57-year tradition where we recognized 260 students who received departmental awards and honors, as well as honor cords for cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude. And our commencement ceremonies this week (Thursday for graduate students, Friday for undergraduates) will be the exclamation points on a year of achievement, despite our ongoing fiscal challenges. I thank all of you, our faculty, administrators and staff, for a job well done. Each and every student who walks across the stage to receive his or her well-earned diploma directly reflects your commitment to student success. As we all take pride in our graduates’ achievements, we should also take pride in the teaching, the mentoring, the advisement and the support that helped them reach their goal.
Every commencement season brings out notable personal stories of students overcoming difficult odds or having interesting ties to Southern. Take the Carrano family, for example. Adjunct professor Andrew Carrano, currently teaching in the psychology department, holds three diplomas from Southern: a B.A. in psychology, a master’s
in education and a sixth-year certificate in school psychology. His wife Donna has a B.S. in nursing and daughter Erica has a B.A. in theatre and is currently working on her master’s in English – all from Southern. Daughter Ashley holds a Southern M.S. in special education and son Dan will graduate this August – but walk Thursday – with a degree in music. Obviously, this family sees the value in a Southern education!
Then there is Daniel Ndamwizeye, orphaned as a young boy during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, who entered this country as a refugee and is now earning a degree in business administration. “I’m still in shock,” Daniel says. “ Given my background, I never thought I would be graduating from an American university.” He says that Southern has opened many doors for him – teaching him leadership and teamwork that he will put to good use in a new management job with TD Bank in Fairfield; and fostering public speaking skills that have helped him relate his story and bring notice and support to the trust he has established to assist fellow orphans in less-developed countries.
These and many other heartwarming stories sum up all that is best about a Southern education – providing access, opportunity and the academic and individual skills for personal improvement and career advancement. And of course, the cycle of higher education never truly ends – the first orientation sessions for our new students beginning the next phase of their lives start May 29.
HONORING OUR SANDY HOOK ALUMNAE
Thursday evening’s graduate commencement for the School of Education will have a special poignance, as we will recognize the four educators – and Southern alumnae – who died in the December 14, 2012, shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
Principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, M.S. ’97, 6th Yr. ’98; teacher Anne Marie Murphy, M.S. ’08; school counselor Mary J. Sherlach, M.S. ’90, 6th Yr. ’92; and teacher and current master’s degree student Victoria Soto, will all be honored with the SCSU Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award, while Victoria Soto’s family will also accept a posthumous master’s degree in special education on her behalf.
The care and compassion shown by these educators demonstrates their strength of character, their total dedication to their students, and also the depth of their moral integrity. It is fitting that we honor their memory at a setting that celebrates education, even as we continue to mourn their loss.
On the topic of commencement, you may have noted that beginning this year we will be holding ceremonies in December for both undergraduate and graduate fall degree completers. The ceremonies will be held at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. respectively, on Wednesday, December 18 in the Lyman Center for the Performing Arts.
While fall graduates are eligible to participate in the ceremony the following May, requests for a commencement ceremony more closely aligned with the time of degree completion have been increasing. Fall completers are far less likely to participate in the ceremony five months after they completed their programs. And the current situation is particularly frustrating for education majors, as many complete the requirements for their degree in May, but have student teaching in the fall, which makes them ineligible to attend the May ceremony with their classmates.
Additionally, a number of December graduates secure employment after completion, and therefore are unable to attend the May ceremony. There are significant numbers of students who complete their degrees in December: 453 undergraduates and 252 graduate students last year. They will now be able to celebrate their achievement with their family and friends in a timely manner.
CONSTRUCTION AND A DEAN’S LEGACY
Excellent news from Bob Sheeley, associate vice president for capital budgeting and facilities operations, that both of our major campus construction projects will be under way within the next couple of weeks.
Work on the new science laboratory building will commence next Monday (May 20), with the first couple of weeks dedicated to the installation of perimeter fencing and general site preparation. The long-awaited renovations to the original Buley Library are scheduled to commence Monday, June 3.
It is fitting that the science building project will begin before Dean of Arts and Sciences DonnaJean Fredeen moves to Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., as provost. In so many ways, DonnaJean has been the architect of the growth of our science programs and the vision behind this new building, which will help carry our STEM initiatives to the next level.
DonnaJean joined Southern in 1987 as an assistant professor of chemistry and was named department chairperson in 1994 before taking on the dean’s role on an interim basis in 1998 and permanently three years later. All of us recognize and thank her for her many contributions, including the introduction of the First-Year Experience (FYE) program; the reform and implementation of a new general education program, the enhancement of science and mathematics on campus and the establishment of new STEM partnerships in the greater New Haven community.
Driven by her passion for the transformative power of higher education, DonnaJean will leave us with a wonderful legacy of accomplishment, and many of the initiatives that she has championed will continue to enhance our mission for years to come.
Here on campus, the academic year ended with numerous awards for our faculty, reflecting both the breadth of their talents and their commitment to the personal and academic success of our students. At our undergraduate commencement ceremony, Bernadette (Bunny) Madara, professor of nursing and Brenda Harrison, adjunct faculty member in exercise science, will be recognized as the 2013 recipients of the J. Philip Smith Outstanding Teaching Award. Both faculty members exemplify the qualities of great teaching, namely engaging and challenging their students in the learning process in a way that enables them to reach their full potential.
Currently teaching Gerontology, Integrated Pathophysiology/Pharmacology I and II, and Adult Health Nursing, Bernadette also serves as a clinical supervisor for student nurses at Yale–New Haven Hospital and the Hospital of St. Raphael. She defines students as “partners in learning,” actively seeking out and providing guidance to those who are having difficulty with course or clinical material. She uses a variety of teaching approaches to meet students’ diverse learning styles, with extensive use of instructional technology.
One student nominator referred to Bernadette as a “coveted clinical instructor” whose caring classroom and clinical environment allows students to approach her for advice and help. In her nomination letter, Nursing Department Chairwoman Lisa Rebeschi said that Dr. Madera “demonstrates a strong commitment to student success and works diligently to maximize students’ potential” and that she is “highly regarded by her peers as an expert educator.”
Brenda Harrison teaches Fit for Life as well as Anatomy and Physiology I and II. In teaching the latter classes she says she works to take the stigma away from “the real hard course” and moving it from a memorization-based class into a course with high degrees of student engagement. Her student evaluations praise her ability to present difficult material using enjoyable learning approaches.
One student nominator wrote that Brenda “taught by planting a seed that does not grow wildly, but in the direction of success. We are accountable for how great we wanted that seed to become.” Colleagues praise her high standards and concern for individual growth. “True coaching is teaching. . . . Brenda cares about each individual, and like a true teacher, wants to bring out the best in each one of them. She applies the same level of dedication on the field that she does in the classroom,” wrote Gary Morin, program director of athletic training. (Brenda also coaches our SCSU women’s rugby team.)
Three other Southern faculty awards were also announced recently. Leon Yacher, Professor of Geography, was the recipient of the Outstanding Faculty Academic Advising Award, while Elizabeth Rodriguez-Keyes, Assistant Professor of Social Work, was named Technological Teacher of the Year. William Faraclas, professor of public health; and Michael Shea, professor of English, were named joint recipients of the Robert Jirsa Service Award for outstanding all-round service contributions to the university. And Elizabeth Lewis Roberts, assistant professor of biology, and Chelsea Harry, assistant professor of philosophy, were recipients of the Junior Faculty Research Fellowship. Congratulations to all of these awardees for their well-deserved recognition.
Fittingly, most of these awards were announced during the sixth annual Teaching Academy – a two-day mini-conference designed to help our faculty enhance their teaching skills. More than 150 faculty members attended the academy, which included sessions on a variety of topics such as technological fluency, understanding student veterans and curriculum-related issues. Keynote speaker Todd Zakrajsek, associate professor in the School of Medicine at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, spoke on “Enhancing Student Learning: Emerging Research and Innovative Strategies.”
This highly productive program, hosted by our Office of Faculty Development, will only serve to enhance our university’s long-established reputation for pedagogical excellence.
The semester concluded with several high-profile events that spanned the spectrum of the Southern experience: Honors Convocation; the Fusco Distinguished Lecture, featuring noted thespian Alan Alda; and two major community service projects: Jail ‘N’ Bail and the Big Event. Honors Convocation celebrated the achievements of our best and brightest students; the two community service events continued a proud tradition of raising money and providing practical help for worthy causes, and in its 15th year, the Distinguished Lecture brought another thought-provoking and entertaining speaker to a full house at Lyman Center.
The success and longevity of each of these events says a great deal about the thought, organization and attention to detail that go into both their preparation and execution. Kudos to all involved.