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Friday, April 29, 2011

SHU Alumni Roundtable Offers Seniors Job Market Insights

SHU Alumni Roundtable Offers Seniors Job Market Insights
By Mike Lauterborn

Fairfield, CT – Though most were not long out of school, the advice that Sacred Heart University alumni offered seniors who are about to graduate was sound and had been earned through trial and error.

Four Communication and Media Studies graduates took the stage at Schine Auditorium on the university’s 5151 Park Ave. campus Wednesday evening April 13 to speak about their experiences in the current workplace and to offer guidance on landing work in the communications field. About 75 people attended the Alumni Roundtable and Senior Night, as the session was titled, including other past alumni, seniors and campus community members.

“This is part of our ongoing effort to stay connected to our alumni and build a strong and loyal SHU network for our graduates in an industry in which networking is vital to success,” said Sara Ross, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Dept. of Communication and Media Studies, the event coordinator.

Student Erica Lucca, 21, who will graduate in May, hoped to gain insights that would confirm she was on the right path. “I sat through four years of media studies and four internships,” she said, “and I feel like I’ve done everything right up to now, but I just want to see what it’s like on the other side of the fence. My major gives me some lateral flexibility to explore a few directions.”

Steve Armato, 22, another May ’11 graduate, concurred. “I want to see what people have done after college, how hard it may be to get a job and what it’s like in the real world. I plan to pursue filmmaking or screenwriting,” he said.

Panelist Dan Nevanpara (’10), an associate producer and editor for PDH Creative in Malibu, CA, offered, “Everyone says do internships, but you have to stand out. Don’t kiss up, but do more.”

Genevieve Manna (’10), another panelist, related her experience of landing a job as an assistant at W magazine, but then getting let go. She was able to move over to Vogue then Allure, after being persistent and patient. “Surprises come,” she said. “You have to keep going, don’t ever lose hope applying to a job.”

Panelist Alex Bente (’06), now a producer for Showtime Sports in New York, said making connections was key for him. “Send your resume to anyone and everyone,” he said, “and keep in touch with people. Mostly, keep your dreams big.”

Lacey Gilleran (’10), who rounded out the foursome, has gone back to school to pursue a masters in journalism, but has worked at World Wrestling Entertainment as a production assistant then commercial associate director, traveling all over the country for live tapings. She said her classes had prepared her well for the workplace and advised, “Pay your dues, but don’t get taken advantage of.”

Featured panelists were not the only alums with a good word or two. Theresa Campbell (’10), a digital advertising coordinator at Reed Exhibition suggested, “Teach yourself whatever you can, and be persistent.”

Tom Herles (’10), a movie reviewer, said, “If there’s something you want to do, go for it.”

Veteran alumnus Carol Aucella (’78), who said she had made a successful living in the film history field, recommended, “Don’t ever say you don’t know what you’re doing. Reach out to someone, figure it out.”

Paul Pabst, the producer for the Dan Patrick Show on ESPN and an SHU adjunct professor who will teach a sports media class next semester, gave advice on interviewing. “Look around the room and find something to comment on. Engage the person in conversation. People like to hire people they like. Be very cocky. It’s your job on the other side of the desk… you have to take it.”

Another veteran, Arlene Greene (’77), had an overall hope to share, which applied to any path in communications that graduates elected to follow. “You kids are our future,” she said. “Media holds a powerful voice. If you have that voice, practice honest journalism and media. Hold onto your ethics and morals.”

Coleytown Book Fair Funds PTA, Offers Local Entertainment

Coleytown Book Fair Funds PTA, Offers Local Entertainment
(for Westport News)
By Mike Lauterborn

Westport, CT – Support for a school’s PTA, focus on literacy and a showcasing of local talent were the driving elements of a weekend book fair.

The event, known as the Coleytown Middle School Book Fair, opened Friday April 29 at Barnes and Noble Bookstore, 1076 Post Road, and was scheduled to run through Saturday, April 30. In addition to raising funds for the school’s PTA, to go toward its scholarship fund, trips, events and other miscellaneous needs, the fair offered book signings by local authors and live music performances.

“We have done this for years with Barnes and Noble,” said Robyn Levy, co-chair of the Fair, along with Corri Neckritz, both parents at Coleytown. “The way the process works is that people go to the cashier with a book selection and mention they are shopping for Coleytown Middle School. The cashier notes it and attributes a percentage of that sale to the school. The target is to sell over $10,000 worth of books over the two days to reach our fundraising goal.”

Levy added that, if people were not able to get to the Westport Barnes and Noble, they could go online or to another location, using a special code. “People can go online to and use the CMS code 10420206,” she said. “They can also use the code at any other Barnes and Noble physical location across the country.”

Levy said that each year they try to organize entertainment to drive some fun and attendance at the Fair. “Today at 4 p.m., we have local author Michael MacColl signing her book ‘Prisoners in the Palace,’” she said. “Tonight at 7, the Fairfield School of Rock’s House Band will perform live in the store’s café. Tomorrow at 11 a.m., local author Cameron Stracher will sign his book ‘The Water Wars’ and Coleytown students will showcase their musical talents.”

Tricia Tierney, Community Relations Manager at Barnes and Noble, said the store and Coleytown have been partnering for close to 10 years. “It’s a great fundraiser, a no-brainer,” she said. “It’s around books, a chance for the school to shine and we’re hosting local authors. It’s a real celebration.”

An added way for shoppers to perform a good deed was to purchase a new book and donate it to the Westport Dept. of Human Services for families in need. To this regard, a bin had been set up for collection by the Book Fair table. “It can be an inexpensive bargain book, but it is much appreciated.”

Kate Andrews, of Westport, was one of many people from the community that came down to show support. “I needed to buy a book anyhow and waited until today to purchase it,” she said. “The Fair is a great effort, providing some much needed funding to the school.”

Tierney pointed out that e-Book purchases would not count as a Book Fair credit. “However, if you buy a Nook e-reader, which is a new device introduced by Barnes and Noble, that would be credited,” she said.

“The original black and white Nook and its accessories were introduced well over a year ago,” explained Tierney, “but now there’s a new color version, which has lots of features, applications and functions. It’s an award-winning reader’s tablet.”

Tierney added that the trend is that people are reading more books – not necessarily physical copies, but e-Books. “Reading is not going away and books are not going away,” she said. “Devices like the Nook just enhance the experience, providing another vehicle for reading that allows instantaneous access. For Barnes and Noble, it’s still about reading, in any format. The Book Fair reinforces that.”

Man About Town: Fairfield Museum a Town Treasure

Man About Town: Fairfield Museum a Town Treasure
(column for April 29 Fairfield Citizen news)
By Mike Lauterborn

With a new mission of focusing my Man About Town adventures on some of Fairfield’s institutional anchors, it struck me that Fairfield Museum and History Center was an ideal candidate to profile.

The organization started life in 1903 as the Fairfield Historical Society, begun by Reverend Frank S. Child, the minister at First Congregational Church and a history buff. The first meeting was held at his home, which is now referred to as the Sherman Parsonage, on Old Post Road.

For the first half of the century, the group housed historical materials at Fairfield Memorial Library. Artifacts at that time were mainly manuscripts and letters donated by early noted families.

In 1955, a dedicated building was constructed at 636 Old Post Road, across from Old Town Hall and the Town Green. Honoring Oliver Gould Jennings, the two-level structure held offices, a library and exhibit space that allowed the Society to increase its collection to include textiles, furniture, agricultural items, paintings and more.

By the turn of the century, the Society realized it was outgrowing its space and decided to build a new facility at 370 Beach Road, essentially 300 yards south of the old property, behind the Sun Tavern.

The new 13,000-square-foot building opened in Sept. 2007 and today maintains an educational classroom, offices, lobby, timber-framed meeting hall, three gallery spaces, a library and a gift shop.

“This is a unique place to not only see and learn about the town but the people that lived here,” said Walter Matis, a Program and Volunteer Coordinator. “It also allows us to gain perspective on where we’ve been as a town and where we’re headed, which is important when certain town issues arise, and just to appreciate the town.”

From a programming perspective, there’s boundless opportunity, from vacation week camps, summer camps, author talks, a book club, walking tours and, of course, exhibits, which are continually rotating. May brings the “IMAGES” exhibit, which features the photographic work of Bill Eppridge, as well as juried entries from amateur and professional photographers.

Besides museum-led activities, the space is often rented to outside groups including charities, private clubs and wedding parties.

Matis said the facility is much more than a traditional museum. “We’re not just celebrating the past, but exploring issues across the board that are controversial or hot topics,” said Matis.

A patron, Aksenia Mace, of Fairfield, said, “The museum is a wonderful contribution to the town, especially for children. It gives them a sense of roots and makes them feel like they belong to a place with a past, but with a perspective on the present and future, too.”

Visiting from Montreal, Boris Terziev, said, “There’s an interesting landscape of homes in the area and it’s fun to learn about the history behind them and some of the indigenous peoples. This is a very New England experience for anyone not from the area.”

Browsers often make a gift shop stop to purchase a memento, though the shop offers much more. The shop’s new manager, Bobbie Sue Russell, who is in the process of reworking the space to be more open and accessible, said, “You can find a wide array of Fairfield souvenirs, but also works by local artisans, one-of-a-kind jewelry, home décor, wedding gifts and children’s books.”

But it’s the educational focus that has helped the museum gain prominence. “A lot of our activities are inspired by and reinforce themes of our exhibits, exploring deeper connections. For instance, a recent maritime exhibit inspired map making, orienteering and sharing into how sailors lived.”

As young students arrived for an afternoon program, I checked my compass and pushed off to explore other Fairfield mainstays.

Whiz Kid: Erin Rigney

Whiz Kid: Erin Rigney
SipSavers water bottle tag inventor
(Posted to 4/29)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – A school project inspired her clever, eco-friendly product idea. Now the middle schooler has begun rolling it out to the masses.

When Erin Rigney, now 13 and a seventh grade student at Tomlinson Middle School, was a fifth grader at Dwight School, she was challenged with devising an invention for the school’s Invention Convention competition.

“I was on soccer and basketball teams and team members would toss their water bottles on the sidelines,” she said. “Often, they would get mixed up and then thrown out because no one wanted to drink from someone else’s bottle. I thought an i.d. tag would be a good idea, and came up with Tag-It.”

Designed to attach to the neck of a bottle, the unique tags were initially made of laminated card stock and secured with twine. They were also created in an array of distinct pastel colors and different shapes like triangles, hearts, circles, stars, etc.

“It was a family project to help make the tags,” said Rigney’s mom, Laura. “We used stencils and made about 100.”

Five best inventions, including Erin’s tags, were picked at the school competition and entered into a state contest at the University of Connecticut. “I won a ‘Recognized Inventor’ award, a $100 U.S. Savings Bond and some Microsoft software,” said Erin.

Equally exciting for her was the feedback Erin got about her invention. As Laura recalled, “Everyone loved them, especially parents, who encouraged Erin to develop the tags as a product.”

“I decided to stop laminating the tags and find a material that was more environmentally friendly,” Erin said. “We researched and found seed-infused paper. When you’re done with your drink, you rip the tag off, soak it in water and plant it, and wildflowers will grow.”

Erin also changed the name to SipSavers and replaced the twine with cotton string. The string has since evolved to latex-free photodegradable bands.

To introduce them to the marketplace, Erin and her mom came up with eco-friendly packaging that didn’t require plastic, created a fold-over tag to hang them at store displays and, through a Japanese company, obtained two logo options. Erin’s 5th grade class chose the winning logo.

“We introduced SipSavers at Fairfield’s Earth Day celebration last year,” said Laura. “Chef’s Table on the Post Road had embraced them just two days earlier and began selling them there.”

“Since the introduction, I won a Fairfield County Green Coast Award for student initiative and environmental responsibility, and SipSavers have been picked up by a number of stores and nature centers throughout Fairfield County,” said Erin.

Looking back on her path to success, whiz kid Erin said, “I never thought a school project would turn into something bigger like this and land me in the news. And people have been so supportive, especially because it’s an eco-friendly product.”

SipSavers are sold 10 to a pack for $2 per pack. For more information, visit: