WEST HAVEN — The University of New Haven has been awarded a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to boost engineering student retention rates.

The five-year grant permits UNH’s Tagliatela College of Engineering to participate in A Scholarship Program to Increase Retention in Engineering (ASPIRE), an NSF initiative to increase the retention rate of engineering students, especially those from underrepresented groups and with financial needs.

The program will permit the university to provide scholarships to sophomore and junior students who have financial need and have demonstrated merit.  UNH will also award scholarships to community-college transfer students, and provide support services including engineering tutors and mentors to guide the students.

“One of the benefits of awarding scholarships to these students is that they will gain confidence and more time to participate in the extracurricular programs, including service, internships and other activities, that the college has to offer reducing the need to work to support their studies,” said Ronald Harichandran, dean of the Tagliatela College.

“Our data shows that 85 percent of our UNH students need financial aid, however, the university cannot fully meet all of their needs,” Harichandran added. “The average gap between financial aid and what is still needed for engineering students enrolled in 2010-11 was $7,400, which makes it very difficult for students with families — particularly women — to complete their degrees on time.”

Many students in the UNH engineering program work at least part-time, the dean noted, and each year more than 20 percent reduce their course load from full- to part-time in order to work more hours.

Benefits of the program will include allowing some of those students to remain as full-time, improving academic performance, allowing students to graduate sooner, and helping students focus more on academics during their sophomore and junior years.

The Tagliatela College offers bachelor’s degrees in chemical, civil, computer, electrical and mechanical engineering.

 Area schools see surge in demand for hospitality training

 

 

The millions of dollars that are being poured into the tourism industry to market Connecticut as a viable destination for out-of-state travelers promises to help grow jobs in related industries such as hospitality and food service.

That many of these jobs are considered entry-level might be misleading. Much education, training and preparation are needed to make the workforce available for the anticipated employment surge.

Meeting the preparatory needs are state learning institutions ranging from technical high schools to community colleges to four-year institutions.

Among area schools offering hospitality curricula are the University of New Haven, which has a Hospitality and Tourism Management Program; Southern Connecticut State University, whose Travel and Tourism Management concentration is offered through the school’s Recreation & Leisure Studies Department; and Gateway Community College, which offers degree programs in both food service management and hotel-motel management.

But even before the college level, Connecticut students have the option to specialize in hospitality courses during their secondary-school years.

At Eli Whitney Technical High School in Hamden, for example, about 72 students are in the culinary arts program, according to Principal Scott Zito. They take courses such as “Basic Food Service,” for which students learn the fundamentals of food preparation and create dishes served in the school cafeteria; “Operating a Restaurant,” which introduces students to the kitchen brigade system and standard restaurant operation; “Marketing,” which exposes students to business ownership requirements such as financial reporting and recordkeeping; and more.

“I think it’s a very well-rounded curriculum,” says Zito. “The cycle is one-half of the year for academic classes, the other half is in their trade area.”

The point is to prepare students to successfully enter the workforce immediately after graduation, Zito says.

“Even is they didn’t go into higher education, when they leave they’re work-ready and they’re ready for employment. They have a complete portfolio, including résumés. They also develop communications skills so that when they go for a job interview they’re ready.”

Schools like Eli Whitney leave very little to chance. Upon entering, students are exposed to all available curricula to ensure that they make the right decision about their future careers.

“Beginning in the freshman year, we run an exploratory program. They can go and cycle through all of our 11 trade areas,” says Zito. “So basically they can make a choice. We give that exploration option, which is good because they may not have been exposed to some things.”

In addition to classroom work, culinary arts students gain hands-on experience preparing and serving meals through an in-house eatery.

“We have all levels of meals, from sandwiches up to really gourmet meals,” Zito says.

“They also learn how to handle money working at the cast register,” he notes. “In addition, they run numerous events throughout the year that they cater — so they get an excellent background.”

Students’ four years of culinary instruction includes professional guidance from three expert chefs on staff. Juniors and seniors also can participate in voluntary work-based learning

“They can go out and work and get paid,” says Zito, as well as earn college credits for their work. 

The result is that students can literally walk into a job after graduating.

“I’ve had some kids right out of school who’ve become intermediate chefs,” Zito says.

 

Likewise, training in hospitality management at Gateway Community College is geared toward workforce entry. The school’s food services offerings fall under this department, which can be a direct route to steady, long-term employment, according to department Chair Stephen Fries.

“People always are going to eat, no matter what happens with the economy,” says Fries. “Restaurants will always be around.”

Likewise, people always will have to stay someplace when traveling, he notes.

He says that while some students enter Gateway knowing they want to work in the hospitality/food-service field, others make that determination after being exposed to it at the school.

“It’s a combination. Many students worked part-time jobs in the industry. The were wait staff or worked the front desk [at a hotel], or even worked at a pizza place. And they discovered they love working around food.”

Even so, some students might come into the program with misperceptions.

“They might watch the Food Network and see that it [culinary arts] looks like a glamorous profession,” Fries says. “But they’re entertaining you.”

Skill-set elements that Gateway courses teach include quantitative — for example, food and beverage cost control, which involves numbers; food chemistry and nutrition, he notes. Baking and other areas of cooking involve much more than combining ingredients and putting them into the oven, he notes.

“It’s a science, really,” says Fries.

For those considering the field who’d like to find out more about what it has to offer, Fries recommends the book Food Jobs by Irena Chalmers. The work “expands on a person’s idea” of what a job in the food industry entails.

It doesn’t have to be just cooking. There are food photographers and food stylists — preparing food to be photographed, for instance, that are available.

“That’s more artistic,” says Fries, “for somebody who might not want to cook, but they might want to work with food.

“The book, I think, is a phenomenal book,” he adds.

Students who work in food service and hospitality shouldn’t just be looking for a paycheck, says Fries.

“You have to have a passion for it, too,” he says. And, he adds, there’s a job in the food service industry for just about any kind of preference: people who like to cook, those who are more artistic, those who like interacting with other people.

“Professional waiters, don’t discount that,” he says. “People who want to become professional waiters can earn six figures at a top restaurant in New York City.”

And, there’s a course at Gateway that focuses on that field: “Principles of Dining Service.”

Those principles, as well as other skills, can be practiced at Gateway’s Café Vincenzo, which gives students the chance to have hands-on experience. Open to the public one day each week for dinner, the café is a lab class that help students provide meals for and operate a restaurant.

Students relish it, says Fries.

“They love it because they’re getting hands-on experience. People know they’re still students. And they can learn from their mistakes. They have experience providing service and food

An advisory board offers feedback and helps structure the curriculum. Because of board members’ observations, the “Principles of Dining Service” course was added to the curriculum, notes Fries.

 

 Debbie Mele sits on that board. She’s also a former Gateway student. For current students and administrators, Mele, who is group sales manager for the Omni-New Haven Hotel at Yale, serves as a community resource.

“This is actually a second career for me,” says Mele. The East Haven resident was a floral designer for 23 years until an arm injury forced her to make a career change. She researched careers at the library and decided to concentrate in the traveling/catering field. But she wasn’t sure about attending a four-year institution.

“Being out of school as long as I was, I thought [Gateway] was the best place to start,” she says.

It turned out to be a good decision for her. She took courses focusing on culinary arts, dietician services, management and tourism, among others. “The field is a lot larger than many people realize,” she says. “It was an eye-opener.”

Skills such as accounting and engineering are needed to plan and predict services such as housekeeping, for which precise timing and logistics are critical.

“There’s a lot of teamwork involved” in the hospitality industry, notes Jill Flynn, director of sales and marketing for the hotel, who works with Gateway and other educational institutions in the area to provide internships and career opportunities to students.

“We work very closely with Gateway,” says Flynn. “We have interns in sales, our restaurants, on our culinary team. In recent months there’s been a great deal of success with some really good people. There’s a level of dedication there. They came in knowing that what it takes is hard work.”

In addition to technical training, basic required courses also come in handy in the hospitality industry, says Flynn.

“Psychology courses are a part of it, too,” she says. “With [advanced] technology, you can also lose the personal touch. At the Omni you have to learn how to make an individual’s day more enjoyable and personalized.

Mele has been working at the Omni for 12 years. Her first job after graduating from Gateway was at the Trumbull Marriott, in its room-service department.

“But I knew that it wasn’t really what I wanted,” she recalls. Using the breadth of exposure and training she received at Gateway, she helped out in the sales department after hours on Fridays. That led her to be able to advance to her current field.

“I think Gateway is a wonderful college and gives anybody an opportunity to grow, not just academically, but individually, for themselves,” she says.

Proximity to employers is a distinct advantage for Gateway, says Fries.

“We have close contact in the marketplace. When they have job openings, they let us know,” he says. Among new fields opening up in the hospitality industry is event planning, he says.

“It was sometimes tucked into another job, such as administrative assistant.” But the field is coming into its own, and “seems to be an area students are especially interested in,” he notes.

But for all the courses and training and hands-on experience, one element of the learning process for the hospitality and food service industry that cannot be taught is “proper attitude,” says Fries.

“The love of serving people, and liking people, you’ve got to have that passion. You’ve got to love the field, and love dealing with people. A proper attitude is key.”

 

 A little-known non-profit is studying how humans process language

 

 

 

Haskins Laboratories has been studying the biology of speech and communication for 77 years.

The research institution has maintained affiliations with Yale University and the University of Connecticut as well as other schools and labs throughout the world, bringing in roughly 100 scientists yearly to conduct basic research on spoken and written language.

Based in New Haven for 42 years, Haskins in 2005 moved from its longtime location on Crown Street to an expansive space at 300 George Street.

Haskins President and Director of Research Kenneth Pugh says researchers there have done extensive work on reading and writing development with a significant focus on dyslexia. He is often cited as an early user of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which can visually represent the brain activity that takes place during different cognitive tasks.

“But we’re only in kindergarten when it comes to what we know about the brain,” Pugh acknowledges, applying the study of dyslexia. “We need to look beneath what MRI tells us. It’s not an explanation of dyslexia? Actually it’s not, it’s just a description. We don’t know why the brain did something differently.”

Pugh says Haskins also performs fMRI’s of speech, reading comprehension and even bilingualism.

A significant amount of work there focuses on the physiology and neurobiology involved in the perception of speech, which goes back almost to the beginning of Haskins Laboratories. It was a Haskins researcher who in 1951 developed the Pattern Playback, the first synthesizer that could process images of spectrograms into sounds. The original machine is still on display at Haskins. Pugh says it “should” be at the Smithsonian Institution, but Haskins elected to keep it on-site.

The lab is loaded with various machines and devices to measure brain responses based on various stimuli — even a mock-MRI scanner to train young children to stay still for an eventual MRI. For children up to two years of age, an optical-imaging cap worn on the head shines infrared lights into the brain and react when parts of the brain respond to auditory or visual stimuli. Various other medical devices measure muscle movements of the tongue and throat and even alter the muscles of the face to evaluate changes in speech.

An anechoic chamber — a type of sound-proof room designed to defeat room reflections and ambience — is used to record and measure sounds to more accurately measure frequencies. The small room feels like a spacecraft with its metallic sound-deadening fixtures. Speaking inside it, one can feel a palpable change in pressure on the eardrum.

Haskins Laboratories is a non-profit organization, and as such does not patent inventions for profit. Funding predominantly comes from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, and it typically is less than $10 million annually, according to Vice President of Finance & Administration Joseph Cardone.

Pugh says the lab’s goal from the beginning was to function as a non-profit entity.

“Because it was and still is basic research, it needs to be pure of any profit motive, and needs to be fundable by the agencies that demand it be pure,” he says. “Scientists can’t be seen as compromised by profit motive or their studies won’t get published in nature.”

He says the research that comes from Haskins — for example, gene or neurochemical connections to language — is often used by others to develop gene therapy or pharmaceuticals that can aid in learning.

But most of Haskins’ research, Pugh says, has led to developments in how to teach reading, particularly in illustrating the importance of teaching phonological skills.

“It came from the insight that reading is not just a visual thing; we are wired by evolution to speak and listen. Reading has only been around for 5,000 years; it requires giving [brain systems] different jobs,” Pugh says. “And the National Reading Panel was able to say, ‘If you don’t do this, you’re in trouble.’”

Pugh says that for the future, Haskins is focused on understanding how language develops in babies, and how to locate the cause of problems with speech as they arise, further research into bilingualism and the process of learning second languages, and how genetics control language.