Fairfield University Graduate Students are Honored for Their Community Service

Submitted by Lisa Calderone MFA '11 on May 2, 2011

Fairfield’s inaugural Graduate Students Service Awards inspired all in attendance on Friday evening, April 29th. Family, friends, fellow graduate students, faculty, and school administrators gathered in the Charles F. Dolan School of Business to honor 5 of Fairfield’s “servant leaders” – all of whom, as described by Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J., Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, “lead with humility and generosity and great example.”

Photos by Bob Winkler

After Vickie DeLuca ’04, Graduate Alumni Board Member, announced the myriad alumni opportunities and activities available at Fairfield, Jim Fitzpatrick ’70, M.A. ’72, Assistant Vice President of Administration and Student Affairs, requested Fr. Fitzgerald deliver the blessing before dinner.

Fr. Fitzgerald encouraged all to “listen more intently to your inner voice” and be cognizant of what is “true, just, merciful, and good.” He expressed hope that Fairfield’s students “would choose to stand with the most vulnerable and then advocate from their standpoint from the quiet, powerful place in our hearts.”

While Fitzpatrick was later recognized by Fr. Fitzgerald as an “unsung hero,” Fitzpatrick credited the Graduate Student Assembly Leadership Council, Fairfield’s first graduate student governance association, with the evening’s events. In its first year, the Council has worked to improve connections with graduate students through a quarterly e-newsletter, social networking, a peer mentoring program, and special events.

“Life is only lived well if it is lived generously,” said Fitzpatrick, quoting William Byron, S.J., of St. Joseph’s University. The 5 students honored, 1 from each of the University’s 5 schools offering graduate degrees, have indeed lived this credo by great example.

Charles F. Dolan School of Business: Susan Serven
MBA in Finance and International Business

The first service award was presented by Myrsini Papoutsis, Assistant Dean of the Charles F. Dolan School of Business, to Susan Serven who is pursuing her MBA with a dual concentration in Finance and International Business. A founding member of the new Graduate Student Assembly, Serven is also the Co-President of the Dolan Graduate Business Association (DGBA) and worked with the board to arrange an official “MBA Oath Ceremony” for current MBA students.

Serven is President of the Chinese Language School of Connecticut (CLSC), a CT-based provider of Chinese language programs to students, schools, and corporations. Mother of two adopted daughters of Chinese origin, she founded the Chopstix preschool Mandarin Chinese program so her daughters and other young children could learn the Chinese language and culture. Net proceeds of this endeavor were donated to programs working with children in Chinese orphanages.

“Susan is a phenomenal woman,” said Papoutsis, before presenting Serven with a framed, autographed copy of Maya Angelou’s acclaimed poem “Phenomenal Woman.” The poem, along with the personalized autograph, represented the high esteem Papoutsis held for Serven.

College of Arts and Sciences: Tess Brown MFA ‘11
MFA in Creative Writing

Next Dr. Robbin Crabtree, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), presented CAS’s graduate student service award to Tess Brown MFA ’11, based on the recommendation of Dr. Michael C. White, Program Director of Fairfield’s MFA in Creative Writing. During her two-year term in the program, Brown was elected by the student body as a representative to administration.

“Tess not only assumed the role of student rep,” said Crabtree, “she defined and broadened it. More than anyone else in the program, she helped to establish the rights for and benefits of her fellow MFA’ers.”

A Graduate Assistant in the Office of Graduate Student Life, Brown currently serves alongside Serven on the Graduate Student Assembly Leadership Council, planting seeds, as Fitzpatrick described, “from which a redwood of possibilities have grown.”

“Her work has gone well beyond the MFA to embrace the entire Fairfield University graduate student population,” noted Crabtree.

Brown thanked the Graduate Student Assembly, the “powerful women of CAS,” Dr. White as the “fearless leader of MFA writers,” and Jim Fitzpatrick who taught her that “whenever you’re facing adversity, face it back with pure kindness.”

School of Engineering: Edward Gratrix
M.S. in Management of Technology

The School of Engineering’s (SOE) first Graduate Student Service Award was presented by Dr. Jack Beal, Dean of SOE, to Edward Gratrix who is pursuing his master’s in Management of Technology. In addition to holding a full-time position at M-Cubed Technologies in Monroe, Conn., Gratrix is currently Chief of the Trumbull Volunteer Fire Company, overseeing more than 60 active men and women volunteer firefighters who serve a community of more than 10,000 residents and respond to between 600 and 700 alarms per year.

The capstone service project that Gratrix and his team have been working on this past year, “The Ladder 11 Fire Ventilation Simulator,” is a fully integrated design intended to train firefighters under realistic conditions.

“Ed and his team have designed a simulation structure that is structurally stable, practical, cost effective, realistic, and reusable,” said Beal. “This simulator has the potential for saving lives of firefighters.”

When Gratrix accepted the award, he noted the “wonderful time” he has had in SOE’s Management of Technology program and how it was “remarkable after 25 years how much more I needed to know.” He then shared that one-third of firefighter deaths could be prevented by early ventilation, and divulged his plans to publish the Ladder 11 Fire Ventilation Simulator not just in the United States, but in the rest of the world.

School of Nursing: Lacy Birdseye
Family Nurse Practitioner Track

Dr. Sheila Carey Grossman, Professor of Nursing, presented the School of Nursing’s (SON) first graduate student service award to Lacy Birdseye, currently in the Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) track. Birdseye works full time as an RN at Hematology and Oncology Associates, has been a student for the past three years, and volunteers two to three shifts per month at Americares Free Clinic in Norwalk as an RN.

Birdseye’s practica throughout the FNP program has included pediatric, adult health, women’s health, and emergency room rotations in various healthcare settings from Norwalk to Bridgeport. Bilingual in Spanish and English, she “easily establishes rapport with both staff and patients, goes the extra extra mile with her patients and families, and is 100% accountable for all her responsibilities,” said Grossman. “Lacy has excelled in the Family Nurse Practitioner program and has served as an excellent role model for others who are interested in putting their last bit of energy into each and every course to gain the most possible learning.”

When Birdseye accepted her award, she thanked Sheila and the School of Nursing, declared that three years ago she made the best decision of her life to enroll at Fairfield, and explained that her coursework “empowered me to open doors to empower others to better their health.”

Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions: Stephanie Santos
M.A. in Elementary Education

The first graduate student service award of the Graduate School of Education and Allied Profession (GSEAP) was presented to Stephanie Santos by Dr. Emily R. Smith, Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction. Santos, who

completed her M.A. in Elementary Education with a “perfect record,” traveled to a rural school near Leon, Nicaragua with a delegate of teachers with the New Haven Leon Sister City Project last February.

Closer to home, Santos volunteers as a teacher and researcher for the afterschool Mighty Math Club, serving students in several high-needs Connecticut schools. In March Santos presented a paper she co-authored about both her experiences in Nicaragua and the Mighty Math Kids Club at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

“Stephanie’s service to elementary children in Bridgeport, Stratford, and New Haven, and to teachers and children in Nicaragua, illustrate her embodiment of the Jesuit mission of service to others,” said Smith. “For her courage, her compassion, and her commitment to others,” Smith proudly presented GSEAP’s graduate student service award to Santos.

Servant Leadership Primed to Grow

Fr. Fitzgerald wrapped up the evening by recalling the third priority of Fairfield University’s Strategic Plan, as outlined by University President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J. in 2004, which is to integrate Jesuit and Catholic values into Fairfield’s graduate and professional programs and to welcome graduate students as much as undergraduate students on campus.

Pointing out that Fairfield University has been a comprehensive university from the outset, since 1951 when both graduate and undergraduate students were awarded degrees, Fr. Fitzgerald asked that the deans and faculty stand in recognition of the qualitative experience they had given our graduate students. He then addressed the family members present, “I hope this gives you a sense of our esteem, love, affection, and pride of your loves ones being honored tonight.”

Addressing the graduate students in the room, Fr. Fitzgerald said, “You bring to our table real life challenges and your own questions, passions, creative ideas. In that way you enrich us immensely. You come here not just to study but to teach us. Tonight, to hear of your contributions to humanity– not just to our small world here at Fairfield but to the human experience – fills me with joy.”

In conclusion, he asked the honorees to “grow servant leaders around you,” and, whenever appropriate, to “please tell others you’re an alum of Fairfield.”

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