The power to overcome

Photo contributed by Andrew Chapin.

Photo contributed by Andrew Chapin ’09, co-author of “From Tragedy to Triumph,” the life story of double-leg amputee John Tartaglio ’09.

His pain level was nine out of 10. Confined to his hospital bed, sweating and aching all over, he could hear his skin crackling, the result of gas gangrene inside his legs, caused by bacteria eating away at his muscle tissues.

Seventeen-year-old John Tartaglio was dying.

His diagnoses couldn’t keep up with his rapid decline. At first it was “just a virus,” then mononucleosis, then myositis — inflammation of the muscles — until the doctors discovered the flesh-eating bacteria. Doctors had to act quick, so Tartaglio underwent a surgery called debridement, which removed infected tissues. The doctors had to amputate both of his legs and cut a part of his left bicep.

Twenty-four hours after amputating his legs, Tartaglio woke up in his hyperbaric chamber, a vessel that provided his cells with oxygen. Doctors told him that he’d never walk again. Tartaglio, who graduated from Fairfield in 2009, almost believed his doctors — almost.

He recognized that adjusting to this change would take a while, but he felt that he owed it to his family, to his friends and to himself to make the most of his circumstances.

“I really felt like if I didn’t push myself and take ownership of getting myself strong again, no one else would,” Tartaglio wrote in his journal.

“I was lucky to be alive, and I reminded myself of that every day.”

True to his word, he showed his strength when he finished the 26.2-mile New York City Marathon five years later, becoming the first bilateral hip disarticulate to run it. These days, in addition to being an active triathlon and marathon participant, the Milford resident is a nationwide inspirational speaker, a business intern at Philips, a soon-to-be MBA graduate, a husband and a father.

Tartaglio, now 26, and fellow alum Andrew Chapin ‘09 chronicled his life story in a nonfiction book, “From Tragedy to Triumph.”

In November 2006, Chapin wrote an article for The Mirror about Tartaglio finishing the New York City Marathon’s handcycling division in 30th place out of 101 participants. They started hanging out, meeting through mutual friends.

Years later, Tartaglio reached out to Chapin about writing a nonfiction book; a fiction writer and a teacher at Thornton-Donovan School, Chapin saw the strength in Tartaglio’s story and couldn’t resist.

To help Tartaglio write the story and adopt his voice, Chapin shadowed him as he went on with his day-to-day life.

“He accomplishes the same thing that any other able-bodied person accomplishes, but just in a different way,” Chapin simply said.

In his motivational talks, Tartaglio usually sits in his wheelchair, contained, but his voice rings out. He tells people to pursue their goals no matter the circumstances.

“Anything is possible when it means enough to you,” he usually says. After his surgery, living as normal of a life as possible, despite what happened, had become his main goal.

Moving On

With hope as his “driving force,” Tartaglio entered physical therapy at Gaylord Rehabilitation Facility in Wallingford, Conn., and later at Rehabilitation Associates. He had to relearn how to balance himself again, with gravity working against him, and how to sit up by himself. He learned how to walk with prosthetic legs. He wanted to be strong once more. Sometimes his efforts ended in disappointments, but they didn’t matter as long as he eventually succeeded, Tartaglio said.

Proving medical professionals wrong, Tartaglio returned to school, walked across the stage and received his diploma from Joseph A. Foran High School in Milford.

His transition to Fairfield was like many other peers’ experience: hesitant.

“When [Tartaglio] and I were at Fairfield together, no one really [acted] in any way different towards him,” Chapin added.

And whenever he did get certain looks, like from curious children, Tartaglio would “smirk and wave and completely diffuse the situation,” Michael Lynch ‘09 said of his best friend.

In 2001, Lynch had met Tartaglio, whom he calls “John T” or “J.T.,” when they were on opposing football teams, Notre Dame High School in West Haven, Conn. and Foran High School, respectively. Lynch transferred to Foran his sophomore year and a friendship was made – and continues today.

Lynch and Tartaglio were roommates and best friends throughout all four years at Fairfield — from Regis, to Gonzaga, to Townhouse 135, and ending on the beach.

Tartaglio wanted to continue strengthening his body, but after finding the RecPlex inaccessible for his disability, he approached Mark Spellman, who was the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for athletes, and asked if he could use the Athletic Center. To Tartaglio’s surprise, Spellman offered to personally train him — promising that he’d be pushed to the limits like any other athlete with two legs. Some athletes might balk at the vigorous schedule Spellman had set, but this was a challenge that Tartaglio gladly took on.

“I wanted to prove to [Spellman] that regardless of my disability that I could push myself like the athletes he trained on a daily basis,” Tartaglio said. “Physical training was a big part of what he did, but the friendship we developed was just as great.”

Lynch would have a 9 a.m. class, but he remembered Tartaglio waking up to train at 6 a.m. “He tried to be quiet,” Lynch said, laughing.westchester20tri20sunrise

All the while, Tartaglio managed to balance his training, his courses and his blossoming inspirational speaking business.

Swinging into Challenges

At first triathlons — races with biking, swimming and running — were foreign to Tartaglio. He swam at the Madison Jaycees while his physical therapist Jim biked and another PT, Jackie, ran.

The next big step came in sophomore year when he agreed to handcycle the New York City Marathon. He finished after two hours, 12 minutes and 12 seconds.

The end of his nonfiction book led up to Nov. 1, 2009: his chance to run the NYC Marathon using a prosthetic. People walked patiently beside him, flashing their lights so that he could see the ground below. Hitting 22 miles at 7 p.m., he continued on a path while taxis drove by. A man encouraged him: “Good job, man. Keep going.”

At the last 100 feet, around 10 p.m., people cheered and clapped from the sidelines. Finally, finishing at 15 hours and 59 minutes, he arrived at the finish line — but didn’t cross. He let the ribbon fall to the ground. For him, the point wasn’t to cross that particular line; his accomplishments far surpassed that physical signifier.

“It really is a transcendent moment in his journey,” Chapin said.


“While it is tough to grasp for some, I truly wouldn’t take back what happened to me,” Tartaglio said. “While what happened was devastating, clearly life-changing and put my family and friends through tough times, the positive experiences that resulted far surpassed the negatives.”

“He had a really good core around him who helped him overcome adversity,” Lynch said. So many people stood by him and believed in him, including his family, his closest friends, his physical therapists Erik, Jim and Dave, Spellman and training partners, Chris and Brett.

With an MBA waiting for him in May, Tartaglio plans to become an internal consultant and help organizations improve their overall performance. His inspirational speaking background will carry over into his next career.

Since the marathon, two events have surpassed his accomplishments: becoming a husband in 2012 and a father nine months later.

“[My daughter] is nine months, but she thinks I’m awesome,” he said.

Like Chapin and many others, Lynch is astonished by his best friend’s ability to juggle so much. Last time they got together was a month ago, but their social time usually depends on whether or not Tartaglio can get a sitter for his daughter.

For his and Chapin’s upcoming appearance at the bookstore, Tartaglio said: “The goal is to help people take away something that can have a positive effect on their lives. What the exact takeaway will maybe different from person to person, but people need to know that anything is possible when it means enough to you.”

Catharsis through creativity

Dr. Bogusia Skud. Photo by Loan Le/The Mirror

Dr. Bogusia Skudrzyk, associate professor of counselor education, in a small group discussing the steps in acknowledging grief. December 4, 2013. Photo by Loan Le/The Mirror

After 26 people died in a senseless shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, community members started placing teddy bears, flowers and small gifts near the site to honor the victims. Bob and Josie Schmidt, town residents for 31 years, recalled visiting the makeshift memorial on a rainy, cold day.

“Everywhere we went in town, we were reminded of what happened; it was beautiful and touching, but it still reminded us of the pain and the loss,” said Bob Schmidt, an adjunct professor teaching Fairfield graduate classes for counseling education.

Deeply affected by the sorrows that couldn’t seem to go away, he and his wife, Josie, a retired teacher who once substituted at Sandy Hook, composed a song to express their grief. Yesterday, they performed “Rain, Rain, Rain” during a workshop at the Fairfield University Bookstore and discussed how creative outlets like literature and songs can heal people after devastations.

The Schmidts led the first storytelling workshop last year. Today, Newtown continues to heal. “We are starting to see the town as the beautiful place we love,” Bob Schmidt said.

As a member of the Sandy Hook Crisis Response Team, he volunteered at a crisis center and said that seeing people come together “helped me get my balance again.”

According to Dr. Bogusia Skudrzyk, who also spoke yesterday, the healing process after tragedies doesn’t always have to be personal. “We must allow ourselves to be around people who care for us.”

To start the healing process, the cause of the pain and sorrow must be confronted. Some people might believe that grief must be overcome immediately. “There is so much pressure around us that makes us pretend that nothing [bad] happened,” the associate professor of counselor education said. But grieving has no timetable.

Skudrzyk also disagrees with the myth that showing sadness is a sign of weakness; she encourages people to be open, like children “who are strong enough to admit their feelings.”

Josie Schmidt believes that acknowledging grief and its causes leads to “an appreciation of the beauty of everyday life.”

Catharsis can happen with words on paper, a brush against a blank canvas or notes strummed on a guitar – creativity opens the path to healing and people can choose whatever route they feel comfortable with.

Eventually, attendees were asked to draw four trees, each representing a different season, and then break up into smaller groups to discuss their drawings. The attendees – some strangers, some classmates from Skudrzyk’s course on multicultural issues in counseling and education – started exchanging stories about parents, siblings and friends who have passed away.

Jeff Burgdorfer, a Fairfield graduate student studying clinical mental health counseling, associated the seasons with the beginning of a healing process.

He said autumn represents acceptance of the “inevitability of death … which gets you into the state of mind to appreciate what you have in the moment.” Winter provides a time for reflection while spring means hope.

“Josie and Bob created a beautiful healing atmosphere through their generosity of themselves and their music,” said Kristen Baxter, who takes classes at the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions.

Closing the workshop, Skudrzyk compared life to an ocean; a community helps others “go through the tides of an ocean that can take anyone off-balance.”

Attendees discovered they have gone through similar experiences and stages of grief. After the workshop ended, people stayed behind and continued their personal discussions. This, according to Skudrzyk, exemplifies how a community can overcome the clouds of grief and sorrow. And like the lyrics of the Schmidts’ song “Rain, Rain, Rain,” she too believes that “together we will chase away those clouds.”

The type of students I despise

Right now I am enrolled in an Elementary French course at Fairfield University. My summer trip to France in 2012 spurred my desire to learn more about the language and culture. French is such a beautiful language, and I hope to use it one day when I return to the country.

Naturally, as with all courses, I am eager to learn. Being in this type of class means that I would surround myself with freshmen, so going in, I expected everyone to be clueless, but open to learn. I’ve noticed that such students exist, but I am appalled to find others who act entitled and are ignorant of common manners. On the first day of class, one student had the audacity to say that she was taking the class for an easy grade, stating that she had more than ten years of experience with the language. I remember our professor, a French woman, being rendered speechless. I couldn’t believe someone would say that. No wonder some foreigners tend to hate Americans!

However, I mostly hate those who feel they are more knowledgeable than others. One student is lagging behind. That person freezes up whenever asked a question. A few students in the class get impatient and point out the answer condescendingly.

C’mon, —-.” And they laugh.

The fact that some students act this way infuriates me, and yet, occasionally, these same people get answers wrong, too. Don’t you ever remember being that kid who didn’t get something the first time?

I clearly recall the third grade when I participated in a class spelling bee.  At that time, I still struggled with spelling and I had let myself think that I could never learn. It was my turn in the spelling bee, and the teacher requested that I spell “beyond.” But I spelled “beyond” as “beyonded.” Everyone starting laughing at me. The room seemed to shrink. I felt my self-esteem crumbling right there. My crush even laughed at me (at this age, such occurrence seemed to damage your entire being). Tears came, and then I ran out of the classroom and into the bathroom. I stayed there, on the toilet, surrounded by random graffiti that kids left behind on the walls, wishing there was toilet paper to actually use.

I could have been emotionally weak back then, but I’m sure other people have felt the same sting, but can hide their reactions better. I returned later and the teacher made everyone apologize, and all was forgotten then. But I still remember this incident – even when I can’t remember much else of my past – because it injured me in such a way that it took up to middle school for me to see that I can learn, as long as I ignore people who put me down for their own pleasure.

To the student who is struggling: Don’t believe you are incapable of learning. Reach out for help from people who don’t judge you. Talk to the professor. Don’t give up.

To the bullies in the classroom: Criticism is good when it is done to help an individual. When criticism is done merely because you feel superior, it is bad. Have patience. Remember that you can be on the other side. Remember how you feel then and promise not to treat another person the same way again.

We are all learning. Sure, you can say that humiliation motivates people to learn faster. But humiliating another person just because you are impatient makes you look like an asshole.

‘You couldn’t ask for a better teammate’

Andy poses with friends after the 2013 Summer Games. Contributed by Rosemary Mahon, Hamden-New Haven swimming coach.

Andy poses with friends after the 2013 Summer Games. Contributed by Rosemary Mahon, Hamden-New Haven swimming coach.

When he was seven years old, North Haven resident Andrew Campion swam because he simply enjoyed being in the water. Now, 30 years later, he still swims — and wins medals.

Recently, Campion won two golds and one bronze at the Special Olympics Connecticut Summer Games. The annual three-day event took place at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven from June 7 to 9 and hosted around 2,500 competitors. Athletes participated in competitions like aquatics, cycling, track and gymnastics.

Campion swam for the Hamden-New Haven swim team and earned two golds in the 25-meter butterfly and 4 x 50 freestyle relay and the bronze in the 25-meter freestyle.

“I am very proud of myself. I had a good time for myself,” the athlete said.

Hamden-New Haven Special Olympics is a program with more than 130 athletes with intellectual disabilities competing in seven different sports throughout the year. Campion was part of the swim team that comprised 13 individuals.

Kevin Fitzgerald, local coordinator of the Hamden-New Haven Special Olympics Connecticut delegation, has known Campion — or “Andy” to his friends — for fifteen years, the amount of time he’s been the coordinator. When he first met Campion, Fitzgerald described him as “already accomplished at that point.”

“You couldn’t ask for a better teammate than Andy. He pushes himself very hard,” said Fitzgerald.

As serious as he is about competition, Campion describes the Summer Games as “fun.”

“It’s a time to be with my friends,” he said. And although athletes compete against each other, Campion believes that it’s all “friendly competition.” He said he made sure to encourage and congratulate athletes before and after the games. “I support all the athletes and coaches for every town,” he said.

Fitzgerald said, “He’s very happy no matter who wins.”

Participating in Special Olympics requires a healthy dose of sportsmanship. Campion, like many others around the world, recognizes the community value in the Special Olympics, knowing that people get involved to help a larger cause.

Special Olympics has served more than 4 million athletes worldwide since 1968. For 44 years, the Connecticut chapter has provided year-round sports training and competitions for about 7,200 athletes with intellectual disabilities, according to its website. More than 10,000 volunteers and 1,200 coaches support SOCT’s mission of hope and community for those with intellectual disabilities.

Campion wanted to make his contribution to the state’s effort this year. In the months leading to the annual summer competition, he and the swimming team trained from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays, doing “tons of laps” and practicing dives in Hamden High School’s six-lane, 25-yard pool.

While swimmers usually start in the pool for the relays, Campion wanted to dive. So he, along with his three other relay mates, in addition to practicing every stroke to avoid disqualification during the competition, worked on their dives.

Rosemary Mahon, head swimming coach of the Hamden-New Haven team, said, “He was adamant; he really wanted to dive.”

And he and his teammates “did it to perfection,” according to Mahon. After the relay, Campion had asked about his dive and Mahon answered, “You slid in like glass.”

He replied, “That’s what I wanted to hear.”

Campion said the practices were hard, but he didn’t mind the work. “I just want to support my team,” he explained.

When his team needs cheering up, Campion is the one to do it. Fitzgerald said, “He tells the team to do the best that they possibly can.”

Conscientious of others, Campion thanked his swim coaches Mahon, Paul Campbell and Linda Macy for training him and also thanked his friends from the swimming team for supporting him.

His passion for sports is not limited to only swimming. He also loves playing basketball and floor hockey, Fitzgerald said. Campion’s role in the game stretches beyond running and dribbling the ball across court — he also coaches basketball on Wednesdays.

No matter what he’s doing “he puts his heart into it,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s all heart.”

Mahon added, “Andy can do anything.”

Asked if he would participate in next year’s Summer Games, Campion replied, “Most definitely yes.” He said he wants to keep swimming freestyle and butterfly but might try swimming backstroke the next time around.

Originally published in The North Haven Citizen on June 21, 2013

Fairfield U mourns Sandy Hook shooting massacre victims

The Egan Chapel. Nicholas DiFazio/The Mirror

Additional information added at 10:25 a.m. on Dec. 15:

  • Connecticut Police spokesperson Lt. Paul Vance said in a morning conference Saturday that Lanza had forced his way into the school.
  • All victims have been identified but the police are withholding the release of the names. Vance said to “please respect their privacy.”

On Dec. 14, the Fairfield University community gathered in the Egan Chapel to remember the victims killed in a Newtown elementary school shooting massacre, which occurred early Friday.

According to officials, 26 people were shot and killed by Adam Lanza, 20, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., after he had killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, in their Newtown home.

Lanza had entered the school around 9:30 a.m., according to The New York Times, and started shooting. Responders were alerted at approximately 9:45 a.m.

Twenty children, reportedly ages 5 to 10, were among the victims and two of the adults killed included the school’s principal, Dawn Hochsprung, and the school psychologist, Mary Sherlach, 56. In addition, Lanza’s body was found inside the school. CNN reported that officials are saying that he died of a self-inflicted gunshot.

Hours later, the scene remained secured by police, as they made sure the school was safe. Police also tried to ensure all students were accounted for. Some parents waited outside in fear, anxious for their children’s safety.

Two pistols – a Sig Sauer 9mm and a Glock 9mm – were discovered in the school, while a Bushmaster .223 assault rifle was found in Lanza’s car in the parking lot.

In earlier reports, news outlets like CNN and NBC, said that the shooter was Ryan Lanza, not Adam Lanza. Ryan Lanza is Adam’s older brother. The Federal Bureau Agency had taken Ryan Lanza in for questioning but he is not thought to be involved with the massacre.

Connecticut governor Dannel Malloy said in a conference, “Evil visited this community today.” President Barack Obama also made his remarks and said: “I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.”

“They had their entire lives ahead of them – birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own,” Obama said, referring to the young victims. “Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping children fulfill their dreams.”

By 10 a.m. news of the tragedy had reached many on social media. Students responded within hours with a table in the Barone Campus Center where passerby could write and post prayers for those afflicted by this tragedy.

President Jeffrey P. von Arx sent an email to the Fairfield University community in the afternoon, saying: “The entire Fairfield University community shares the enormous grief that is being felt by those affected by the tragedy that took place this morning in Newtown. We have students, faculty, staff and alumni who live in the area and our thoughts and prayers go out to them and the entire community impacted by this devastating event.”

He said the University has worked closely with the school in the past, “placing graduate students for clinical field experiences there.”

The campus had a moment of silence at 4 p.m. The bells at the Egan Chapel of St. Ignatius Loyola also tolled to mark the moment, and later a vigil was held in the Chapel at 6 p.m.

Fairfield graduate Ralph Belvedere ’12 played introductory music as students filed in to write in the book of condolences, which will be sent to Sandy Hook. Father George Collins made the opening and closing remarks.

Lit candles in the Egan Chapel. Nicholas DiFazio/The Mirror

He asked that students pray for the victims who experienced a “sudden and violent passing.” Collins said in his sermon that God could “heal even as something as heinous as the massacre at Sandy Hook.”

Collins asked that students light candles to provide a “light of love, light amidst the darkness that so many of us feel today.”

Others, including James Fitzpatrick, assistant vice president of the University, went to the podium to share prayers of peace from different faiths.

Collins ended the vigil, inviting people to stay for as long as they’d like. He said: “Perhaps this is a good night to remind everyone to call someone – call a friend, a loved one, and let them know how much you love them.”

As of Friday evening, police do not know the motive behind Lanza’s shooting. However, reports are coming in, saying that Lanza had suffered from a personality disorder.

The Sandy Hook shooting is the second deadliest school shooting in American history, ranked after the 2007 massacre at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, which claimed 32 lives.

Before this incident, Newtown, Conn., approximately 35 minutes away from the University campus, was considered a quiet village in Fairfield County, with a population of about 27,000 people. Sandy Hook Elementary School had an enrollment of 626 students in kindergarten through the 4th grade.

Other sources for reference:

Navigating Sandy through Social Media

After my experience with micro-blogging over the years and particularly over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that Twitter has the power to connect strangers and strengthen the whole community in times of need.

AS A CONSUMER (@loanloan)

Fueled by my growing obsession with food, I decided to follow notable people in the food industry. These Twitter users included the food empire Food Network, network stars Justin Warner, Alton Brown, Alex Guarnaschelli and food foundations like Better Food Foundation.

Hypothetically if I had to write a story now, using information tweeted by the chefs and food-affiliated twitter handles, I’d focus on how the food industry is helping those in need after Hurricane Sandy.

A lot of times these chefs are not just passionate about food, but they are also passionate about giving others access to food. I remember once watching a special on Food Network in which chefs followed the trail of food from pre-production to production. In this way, the chefs exposed to the audience to how food is processed and who exactly receives the food. They generally seek to spread awareness on local poverty. In light of Hurricane Sandy, as a reporter, I might want to see who is in need of food. I might ask, “What foundations are in process of handing out food?” Some of the chefs  reside in New York, and I know that the state was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. I see tweets and retweets from the chefs encouraging their New York followers to help out at local shelters.

Before the storm, I remember one or two chefs tweeting tips on how to prepare food in the case of an emergency, which I thought was a really enlightening and humorous thing to tweet.

The chefs are not only tweeting on their own expenses, but also on behalf of their restaurants. Most of these chefs have interesting characters along with their food expertise, which explains why people have the desire to follow them. As business reporter Darren Rovell said, in his article “13 Golden Rules of Twitter,” tweets with humor can garner a good following.

Because these chefs are embedded in an area where food is needed, they are more knowledgeable about the places that are helping with food distribution. Their tweets and retweets would help me find people I can get in contact with. I’m not familiar with the foundations they are involved with, but since most of the chefs tweet links to the foundation sites for their followers to donate to, I can use this to lead me in the right direction. The foundations that I follow are only a few of those that exists in New York and other areas.


[View the story “Keep calm and carry on: Fairfield University moves past Sandy” on Storify]

Given my live-tweeting experience during Hurricane Sandy, I knew before creating my Storify that I wanted to cover how Fairfield University handled the storm and its aftermath. During the actual event, I started ‘Favoriting’ certain tweets, thinking that I could use them in my Storify. To retrieve these specific tweets for my Storify, I clicked on Twitter, went to Favorites, and typed in my twitter handle. From there, I was able to easily insert the tweets into the story.

I also briefly filmed what was happening outside just as Sandy was starting up. I then used the YouTube video to show just how intense the winds were.

I also considered the location of those who tweeted during this time and narrowed my focus to Fairfield University administration, staff and students and also town of Fairfield and news outlets. I felt like key users like IRHA, FUSA, The Mirror, BCC212 were the main sources of information during this period. I used their tweets in my Storify because they had acted as the authority for technical information during the power outage on campus. In this way, I believe I succeeded in micro-blogging by using specific sources.

In addition to researching Sandy by traditional method of utilizing the web, I also consulted University students for their input on the whole experience. I included quotes from students I interviewed after the storm had passed, because as the assignment said, I wanted to cover the story from start to finish, and felt like they had a lot of things to discuss.

In this curation process, sometimes I couldn’t access a certain tweet or Facebook update, possibly due to privacy restrictions. As a curator, in, say the art world, I imagine that one person can hear gossip about an exhibition that another person wouldn’t know about. Similarly for me as a curator in social media, on my personal accounts, I have the ability to see only certain updates. For example, since Hurricane Sandy, I’ve been following the Fairfield Police Department and I receive their updates on my Facebook newsfeed. Yet, when I searched for them on Storify, nothing showed up.

I imagined the Storify article to be similar to a traditional news article, save for shorter paragraphs. Since I knew my audience would be part of the Fairfield University crowd, most of my transitional sentences summarized the idea and the following bits of social media consisted mainly of specifics. In one portion I wanted to show the damages done to Fairfield University and the town of Fairfield, so I embedded images in a sequence. If I had put text between each image, I would have disrupted the flow.


For my immersion experience, I tweeted from The Mirror account  Hurricane Sandy updates. I started tweeting consistently when the power outages began. Luckily I made sure to charge my phone the whole day so when the powers went out, my iPhone was charged 100 percent.

Even as I sat in my Dolan kitchen, surrounded by roommates and illegally lit candles, I remained focus on the task of tweeting from The Mirror’s account. I liked that with a mobile phone, I was able to connect to others no matter my location. All the while, I felt a sense of urgency.

Rovell said,  “Don’t Trust Everything That Is Tweeted.” However, I played around with this rule as I was tweeting. Usually, I don’t trust the students that the newspaper follows because their tweets are usually incomprehensible or totally irrelevant to school news. But during the start of the outages, I looked at the Twitter feed and saw that students were saying “this place” and “that place” had lost power. I then tweeted that “______ has  lost power.” If a group of students happened to report the same thing at the exact same time, I reasoned that the information was true. In my opinion, I think it was easy to distinguish the sources I should trust from those I should not.

In the case that I wasn’t so sure about a particular source, I did a bit of research. I wanted to tweet accurately during this time, because I knew followers would want quick but also correct information. For example, if I came across information that needed an attribution, I would use words like “reportedly” or “this source reported” just so that if the information was wrong, The Mirror wouldn’t be held totally responsible for the misinformation. But I only used this strategy when I considered the information most likely to be true. I was thinking of the time when Joe Paterno, head coach of Penn State football who failed to efficiently report the sexual abuse crimes committed by football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, had passed away. His death was announced prematurely, but the information couldn’t be confirmed. Even though he did pass away the next day, those responsible for the early tweets were relieved of their jobs. I knew that I needed to attribute my sources so that I could know where I received the information in retrospect.

Let me just say that I loved how the news outlets and Fairfield University twitter accounts were working together. It was astounding to see. One outside newspaper sent direct messages to us, giving us information and asking if we needed more help. When I needed to confirm some information, I would consult people that had the information. For example, one of my roommates said that the BCC was running on generator, even as it acted as an evacuation center for Beach residents and Townhouse residents, who had lost power. I wanted to confirm this, so I sent a tweet to Fred Kuo, who is heavily involved with the BCC. He answered me directly and confirmed that the BCC was, in fact, running on generator. I felt safe then to retweet this to The Mirror’s audience.

I made sure to tweet using AP and The Mirror guidelines. At one point I had misspelled the residence McInnes as McGinnes. I deleted the original tweet and immediately posted another one less than a minute later. It helped that I had the option to delete tweets, but luckily I didn’t find it necessary to use it often. It was also a challenge to keep to the 140 character-limit on Twitter. Not only did I have to get information out on time, but I also had to keep it clear and brief. After a few rounds of tweets, I got the hang of it. According to our chapter on micro-blogging, tweeting is more about the quality of the information than the quantity of information. I believe I did provide quality information during Hurricane Sandy.

Also during the power outages, I constantly checked The Mirror’s feed, because we followed a lot of students and Fairfield University personnel, and I knew I’d get a lot of information that related to the campus and town. In this way, I believe that I did “follow the right people,” as Rovell had instructed in his article “13 Golden Rules of Twitter.” I saw someone tweeting about students being stuck in a Mahan elevator. I didn’t have a way to confirm this, so I tweeted that someone is “believed to be” stuck in the elevators. I did this because I wanted to alert anyone in Mahan, so in the case that the outage lasted a long time and elevators wouldn’t be moving for a while, people would know that someone needed help in the elevators. About an hour later, we received a response from one of the students stuck in the elevator, who, along with her friends, were able to get out safely. Crisis averted there.

I also wanted to hear from students how they were coping during this event, so at one point, I asked followers to tweet back at us. Rovell mentioned that it was alright to occasionally tweet personal tweets. Though my tweet wasn’t necessarily personal, I was still breaking the wall between a news outlet that reports plain facts and the audience whom it caters to.

I ran into some technical difficulties. IPhones tend to run out of battery fairly quickly. Although I made sure to turn off unnecessary components, by lowering the brightness and eliminating apps that I wouldn’t be using, I slowly saw my battery running out. I almost panicked. At this point, I couldn’t switch over to my laptop because my Wi-Fi was down along with the power outage. Luckily the lights went on when my battery was at maybe 10 percent.

In the case that I ran out of battery before the lights went on, I’d send a quick message to other staff members on The Mirror to start tweeting. I feel like heading into the storm I was the sole person tweeting, with occasional help from Martin, the editor-in-chief. Prior to the outage, I did send out a message to staff members with the Twitter account name and password and asked for them to assist with tweeting, but sadly I didn’t get much help. For the future, I believe The Mirror would need to be more organized in this aspect.

Overall, this immersion experience was intense but also taught me how social media can establish strong ambient awareness in times of crises and disasters.

Beach residents adjust to Sandy aftermath

Students familiar with the Mateo Sanchez, S.J., room in the Ignatius Loyola Hall will remember its tacky couches and capacity to hold no more than 50 people. Now, there are five beds, five girls, and their belongings packed into one room.

Relocated beach resident Kaitlyn Lewandowski ‘13 now resides in that same room, one of many places on the Fairfield University campus that have been converted in order to host displaced Fairfield Beach area residents who had lost their homes in Hurricane Sandy just last week.

The east coast continues to clean up after the hurricane had destroyed houses, uprooted trees and flooded many streets that left residents discouraged in the aftermath.

A large portion of the 350 displaced  residents chose to return to campus rather than commute. Lounges in halls like 70 McCormick Rd., Gonzaga, Jogues and Campion are now converted to host students. Some seniors are staying with friends on campus or rooming with underclassmen in doubles.

Director of the Office of Residential Life Ophelie Rowe-Allen, said the housing process has been “hectic,” but they are doing the best they can to meet students’ needs: “If they need a place on campus, we try to find it for them.” She said she does not place students based on how long it might take for their beach houses to be renovated.

Staff members “have been working 24 hours to get everything fixed. They’ve worked from the beginning of the storm until to now … going home late, working very late,” said Rowe-Allen.

So far, students are aware of the University’s efforts. Lewandowski said, “It’s definitely a switch going from sharing a house with five girls to sharing a room with five girls. But we’re happy just to have a place to stay.”

Senior Andrew Bromstedt, whose house didn’t flood but needs renovations to its heating system, had originally planned to move into a townhouse, but it ended up having too many people, so the Office of Residential Life moved him into Gonzaga Hall.

Bromstedt said of Res Life: “They’re doing the best they can. You can’t be too mad; it’s not like it’s their fault that the hurricane came.”

Senior Kimberly Combs, who lives with five other girls in the converted third floor lounge in Campion Hall, shared Bromstedt’s sentiments towards the University: “The school has been very accommodating, they’ve done everything they can. I mean, it’s no one’s fault.” She noted that she and her roommates chose to move off-campus, so the University didn’t have to accommodate the residents, but still did so.

That is not to say they don’t have their share of complaints. Students are still getting used to relocating from life near the waters to life on campus. They must adjust to the smaller living area, for one, as Lewandowski said.

“Just sharing a room with five people is very different from having my own room. You can’t really have people over with five roommates,” said Lewandowski.

“The school doesn’t have enough room for everyone, we can’t live like this — six seniors in a room,” said Catherine LaGreca ‘13, who rooms with Combs. According to her, the school must consider the future of students who might want to live on the beach, if the option is available by next semester.

Even though the Office of Residential Life has given them beds, added laundry swipes to their StagCards, and placed them in residences campus-wide, they don’t have enough refrigerators for campus’ new residents, causing some issues with the storage of food.

Barone is one choice for some who want a 14-meals a week plan for around $600 for the semester. But LaGreca said that she and her roommates choose to go out for food, which is getting expensive, she noted. They also are hesitant to buy a meal plan when they aren’t sure when they’d return to their beach house and not have any more use for the beach plan.

The residents in the Campion also worry about the rest of the senior year. Though they agree that it’s something that all seniors will remember and bond over for the rest of their lives, Combs and LaGreca’s roommate, Paulina Foster ‘13, agreed that Hurricane Sandy had “put a huge damper on [our senior year].”

Because “residential guidelines still apply to all students,” according to Rowe-Allen, seniors might have to adjust their social lifestyle. But the director of Residential Life said that after three years, she is not at all worried that this year’s class-fused living situation will cause problems.

For many beach students, rooming in cramped quarters and changing their lifestyles is the only option. According to Lewandowski, her beach house needs three to five months to be repaired. She received two feet of water and sewage damage in her house, and most of her belongings were destroyed. Her landlord doesn’t seem to be helping the case; she heard from a neighbor that he flew out of country after the storm.

Campion’s newest residents are unsure of their beach house’s fate. Combs noted Wednesday and Thursday’s Nor’easter has the potential to cause more damages.

Rowe-Allen noted that Hurricane Sandy seemed to bring the Fairfield University a bit closer. Alumni have come to the rescue of Stags. Community members have offered their homes in such places like Fairfield, Trumbull and Darien. She is still receiving responses as of Tuesday. “The response was ‘overwhelming,’” she concluded.

The freshmen are also accommodating their older neighbors. Freshmen Nora Garrity sympathizes with the seniors: “It’s too bad that the seniors who live at the beach have to come back to campus and live with freshmen after three years of looking forward to living on the beach.”

Freshman Deirdre Simms also said, “I would say that it is really unfortunate that the seniors have to stay in the dorms but the most important thing is that they have a place to stay. I think everyone has been making the best of the situations in the dorms.”

Bromstedt and the new residents of Campion are adapting to their circumstances. Lewandowski has found a possible new home for next year and said she was excited about the find.

For the Class of 2013, life moves on.

For more information on Fairfield University beach residents:

  • Greenwich Times published an article about Father Jeffrey von Arx, S.J., and the beach residents he reached out to.

Fairfield U. campus belted by Sandy

Photographic spread of damages in Fairfield, Conn. from Hurricane Sandy. Loan Le/The Mirror

Yesterday morning, the sun shone down on the Barone Campus Center. Fairfield University flags reclaimed their places on light poles campus-wide. The gardening staff returned to meticulously caring for the evergreen lawns on campus.

This scene was in stark contrast against Monday evening at Fairfield University, when nearly all campus buildings had gone dark and was at the mercy of Hurricane Sandy’s 80 mph winds.

News about Hurricane Sandy, dubbed by some as “Frankenstorm” or “The Superstorm,” first emerged more than a week ago. The Weather Channel was quick to notify people about its severity and even tweeted that this hurricane “will occupy a place in the annals of weather history as one of the most extraordinary to have affected the United States.”

Fairfield University cancelled Monday and Tuesday classes in preparation for Sandy. According to one of many StagAlerts that the University had sent out, “all students who can go home are strongly encouraged to do so.” For those who chose to remain, the school instructed them to stay inside at all times.

According to a campus-distributed survey, around 1000 students waited out the storm on campus.

During the storm

At approximately 5:30 p.m., the Townhouses lost power. Around 500 residents in the Townhouse complex had to be evacuated via shuttle buses to the BCC, but some students went to stay with friends in the other residence.

Because of its spaciousness, the connecting dining service and couches and furniture, the BCC became the main evacuation center during Hurricane Sandy, according to Nathan Lubich, assistant director of Residence Life, who spoke for the office. If the BCC was ever compromised, Lubich imagined that they would move students to Alumni Hall.

Some students complained about the evacuation, but Lubich said he understood the circumstances. “It’s really hard for people to be told to just sit and wait.”

But, ultimately, the Resident Assistants performed “really well,” Lubich said. The RAs, who were asked to remain on campus as “critical employees,” had their radios ready and went on rounds in their halls during the power outage. Public Safety officers also assisted in the patrol.

The Quad, the Village, Dolan and Bellarmine all lost power by 7:30 p.m. on Monday, but since the emergency lights stayed on, students were allowed to stay in their residences.

From then on was a waiting game for most. Students received Facebook and Twitter updates from the University, Fairfield Police Department, The Mirror, Fairfield University Student Association and Inter-Residential Housing Association.

Twitter also indicated smaller incidents, which happened during the outage. A fallen wire of 13,000 Hertz had caused a small fire on North Benson Road. In Mahan, some students were stuck in an elevator but were eventually freed later on in the night.

Then at about 11 p.m., almost simultaneously, power was restored to all buildings, save for the Townhouses.

Technically, Hurricane Sandy was downgraded to post-tropical cyclone status around 7 p.m. Despite this change, weather broadcasters had urged people to still take Sandy seriously.

Broken tree outside of Dolan Hall. Photo credit: Loan Le

The damages to the University campus consisted of fallen trees and some smashed cars, but these damages seemed to pale in comparison to those in the town of Fairfield.

Dealing with the Aftermath

Next Tuesday morning Fairfield was in a state of emergency with over 97 percent of residents without power. Streets and homes suffered severe flooding. Some roads were blocked by broken branches.

Because of road blockages and the power outage, for example, FPD had used the University Department of Public Safety radio frequencies to collaborate on responding to nearby damage, including the short-lived fire on North Benson Road.

Nationally, the statistics showed even more dire consequences. On Tuesday, approximately 8 million people were without power.

As of Thursday evening, CNN indicated the death toll in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean was at 157. The cost of economic damage is at an estimated $20 billion, with some news reporting that it could possibly amount to $50 or $60 billion.

However, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Fairfield University moves forward with the resilience to overcome future difficulties.

Vice President of Student Affairs Thomas C. Pellegrino

The next day, Barone Campus Center Dining Hall provided full service to displaced Townhouse and Beach area residents and other students, an act that proved to Lubich the attempt to return to normality.

“Every crisis brings with it its own unique circumstances, and Hurricane Sandy was no exception. With that said, our approach is to keep students and community members safe, through best practices and through clear and timely communications,” Vice President of Student Affairs Thomas Pellegrino said.

Dolan resident Amanda LaMattina ‘14 approved of the safety measures the University had undertaken during the crisis. “I personally felt safer there than going home. My parents actually encouraged me to stay here. I can honestly say that after the hurricane I was a lot better off staying here than going home,” she said.

Similarly, Sarah McHugh ‘15 said she felt safe because “when the power went out and this storm was going on I was surrounded by my friends.”

Junior Nicole Juliano, a Townhouse resident who stayed in McInnes Hall while the evacuation had been underway, said of her current situation: “The townhouses not having power is frustrating but I can’t really complain because there are students who lost their homes completely. I’ve been staying with friends in Mahan and McInnes and we’re allowed back to our houses during the day.”

Juliano and Lubich said that the University had done a good job with keeping student up-to-date during and after the storm. Parents on Facebook found the University updates to be helpful.

On the Fairfield University Facebook page, Lisa Fescoe Petramale, who has a son enrolled, wrote: “They’re doing a fantastic job so far for the safety of all.” Another parent, Suzanne Taves, resided in California and said she “ really appreciated the updates.”

Townhouse resident Rob Garrone ‘14 also believed the University did its best in response to the hurricane, but still had criticism for some of the school’s procedures.

“I think the university is being a little heavy-handed in its response to the storm in this instance,” said Garrone. “I could easily be sleeping in my bed in my townhouse in the dark at night instead of being in someone else’s room, inconveniencing my friends and other guests like the beach residents who really do need a place to stay. I’m not afraid of the dark.”

Pellegrino also pointed other areas of improvement during natural disaster responses: “In terms of what could have been done better, I think there would be opportunity for us to streamline our communications and see to it that we were meeting reasonable expectations in terms of clarity and timeliness. That’s always something that can be worked on.”

Moving forward

Fairfield University is eager to move on. “‘Tireless efforts’ is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but in this instance, these people have very much worked around the clock this past week adjusting to the needs of an extraordinarily difficult situation,” he said.

Pellegrino said: “Suffice to say, though, that these are going to be continually challenging times. We will be there for the students, and I think the level of support received from all sectors of the University has already reaped rewards.”

“As a Jesuit institution, Fairfield does this better than most,” he said.

Published in The Mirror on Nov. 2 in a special Hurricane Sandy issue

Fairfield garden serves needs of students

Photo Credit: Loan Le/The Mirror

The collective efforts of Fairfield University students, faculty and administration in 2010 produced a sustainable garden that continues to push the school towards more green initiatives.

Located west of the Dolan School of Business, the 3,000 square feet garden hosts annual and perennial herbs and vegetables like butter squash, tomatoes, jalapeno and Swiss chard.

The produce grown depends on what students might like.

The concept of sustainability deals with the notion that the human race can depend on the natural environment for their survival. Humans and nature can function in unison so that the present and future can be secured.

Junior Jesus Nunez, a garden intern since summer 2011, pushes for the school to become more environmentally friendly. The garden tries to use as little chemicals as possible.

“We have enough energy issues as it is,” said Nunez. “The only way we can really survive as a human race, especially as our populations grow, is to cut down on energy use, on the use of pesticides and the use of fertilizers . . . The more we learn about how to grow our own food, how to grow it in a natural way, the better for everybody.”

Associate Professor of biology Tod Osier Ph.D., said: “I feel like the garden is coming into its own, but it still is evolving every year. New projects like the bees and looking into growing herbal teas are new areas of interest and very exciting. We are continuing to work with the chefs in the campus center to refine what we grow.”

However, the garden has encountered its share of problems since its founding.

“There is also the very real issue of just being successful in actually producing the crops that you want to grow in spite of the weather, insects and disease – that always keeps things interesting,” Osier said.

Nunez also mentioned that the garden once had to deal with powdery mildew, symptoms include white spots that form on the surface of the vegetables. The occasional cat or dog might sneak into the garden, but the deer might pose a problem, since they are herbivores and could eat the vegetables.

To combat these problems and prevent repeat incidents, different gardening techniques are employed. Every year, Nunez said they do crop rotation by planting vegetables in different areas within the land each season, in order to slow the spread of pests and diseases. To enrich and manage the soil fertility, cover crops, such as legumes, are planted.

Nunez and volunteers go in ‘work parties’ on Sundays at 2 p.m. and Tuesdays at 4 p.m. to weed and clean up the garden.

“Facilities Management has also provided a lot of support by supplying mulch, compost, and top soil,” added Associated Professor of Biology Jennifer Klug, Ph.D., also an advisor.

The garden contributes to the campus’ dining services and residential life.

The dining services (Sodexo) use all of the herbs in the garden according to Resident Dining Supervisor Amy Krosky.

Recently, on Sept. 17, for a Bellarmine lunch, 75 percent of the produce used had been from the garden.

Sodexo employs professionally trained chefs who adapt the daily menus to the naturally grown produce that is available in season.

From Sept. 16 to 22, the school participated with 64 other locations in Farm-to-Chef Week, an event promoted by Connecticut Department of Agriculture which connects chefs and food service establishments with local farmers.

Junior Laura Ballanco, a former Leaders for Environmental Action at Fairfield member, remembers the previous ‘Farm to Chef’ weeks that the dining service has participated in. According to her, the taste of local produce is noticeable.

“You can taste the freshness. I felt like I was eating at home,” Ballanco said.

The garden is also not limited to campus use. According to the Fairfield Dining Service website, harvests are done during the fall and then the garden donates a portion to the Connecticut Food Bank through Harvest Now, a non-profit organization that pairs garden communities up with local food banks.

Though mainly funded by the Division of Administration of Student Services, the Office of Academic Engagement and the Biology Department and Program on the Environment also keep the garden afloat.

“Fairfield should be at the forefront of these agricultural-environmental issues, because it’s the future,” said Nunez, “because then everyone has the means to access good, quality food that has low-impact on the earth.”

Fairfield U car fire victim still in critical condition

A Fairfield University student remains in critical condition after being badly burned in a car fire.

Part-time student Justin Hervey, 23, of Armonk, N.Y., was rushed to Bridgeport Hospital last Thursday evening after he and his Chevrolet Tahoe caught fire near Tunxis Hill Park in Fairfield, Conn.

According to a Connecticut Post article, a Little League baseball game was in progress when coaches and parents noticed Hervey on fire near the field. Hervey had pulled into the parking lot when the car started having trouble.

Coaches immediately rushed over and tried to extinguish the flames. This quick thinking was “heroic and should be applauded,” said Assistant Fire Chief Scott Bisson in the article.

Hervey was still conscious when emergency personnel arrived on scene.

As of late Tuesday night, Hervey’s condition remains critical, according to Bridgeport Hospital spokesperson John Cappiello.

Hervey’s sister, Stephanie Hervey ‘13, said that her family is hoping for the best. “He’s still in critical condition,” she said. “He will be for a few months, but . . . he’s pulling through right now so hopefully he will continue to do so.”

Word about Hervey’s condition spread to the University community the day after the incident.

In an email released to the community on Friday, Vice President for Student Affairs Thomas Pellegrino wrote: “We are monitoring his situation closely and University staff members have extended support to his family, who is with him at this time.” Pellegrino also offered students and faculty counseling options.

Because the accident is currently under investigation, little information about the cause of the fire is available, according to a Fairfield Fire Department official. However, in a Hartford Courant article, Sergeant Suzanne Lussier, a Fairfield Police spokesperson, said that the fire originated in the passenger compartment of Hervey’s car.

Stephanie called Hervey the “shining star” of the family and “the best brother I could have ever asked for.”

Hervey’s family asked that people  continue to pray for him.