Human Services Concentration Faculty Hosts Successful Alumni Panel

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Mette Christiansen introduces alumni panelists during the Oct. 3 “Life After the Concentration in Human Services” panel in Old Main.

By Despina Williams Parker

A panel of Sociology alumni counseled their undergraduate counterparts during a “Life After the Concentration in Human Services” panel held October 3 in Old Main. Human Services concentration faculty Mette Christiansen and Donna Chaffee combined their classes for the nearly three hour event.

The panel included Katie Borek (’11), Jonathan Castro (’10), John Clausson (’03), Sarita Green (’03), Briana Kane (’05), Jessie Moore (’06), Carolyn O’Neal (’07), and Deborah Walnicki (’14). Chanel Ward, the Director of the Scholar’s Mentorship Program at New Paltz, also joined the panel. She earned a Master’s in Professional Studies/Humanistic Multicultural Education in 2010.

Panel 2The panelists have varied work experiences. They have found employment as Case Manager and Street Outreach Worker at Safe Horizons, Director of Programs at Safe Homes of Orange County, Tutor at Mid-Hudson Migrant Education, Risk Management Specialist at Irwin Siegel Agency, Coordinator of Transition Services at Wildwood Programs, and at Planned Parenthood as Sexuality Education Coordinator. Walnicki, who received a 2014 Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, is a Fulbright Fellow to Malaysia.


Christiansen has developed the alumni panel over the last 15 years, in hopes of easing students’ fears about life after graduation. “It gives them hope, options, and direction,” she said, noting that career exploration is a “theme that weaves itself in and out of the courses throughout the semester.”

Prior to the panel, Emily Zurner and Ben Sweet from the Career Resource Office taught students how to write cover letters and CVs. Students also brainstormed questions for the panelists in September. In November, students will have the opportunity to meet alumni who have traveled internationally during and after graduation and now use their human services and language skills in their work in local programs for “Unaccompanied Alien Children.”


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Students in the Human Services Concentration had time to network with the panelists and ask questions about human services careers.

The Human Services concentration has cohorts of 30 students, and Christiansen and Chaffee have maintained relationships with alumni throughout the years. Local alumni frequently supervise students during the three required internships, and are eager to return to campus to speak to students.

Christiansen said her undergraduate students frequently make their availability for future alumni panels known. “They say to me, ‘When I’m done, I want to be one of those who come back,’” she said.

Christiansen enjoys the chance to interact with former students and share their success stories with the current Human Services cohort. “It’s like being a very proud mom – a professional mom,” she said.


New Paltz Alumnus Presents Play at Black Box Theatre

Professor Emeritus Charles Dumas, presently an adjunct in the Black Studies Department at New Paltz, will be presenting a reading of his original drama, “Reconciliation,” in New Paltz’s Black Box Theatre on Oct. 20 at 5:30 p.m. The play tells the story of an African American couple in the diplomatic core stationed in Iraq in 2004, three months before that country’s first elections. The play was first presented at The Joiner Institute for the Study of War and Social Consequences at  University of Massachusetts this past June. It will have a full production next year.

Dumas is a 1975 graduate from New Paltz, majoring in political science with a minor in Black Studies. He was an NP Alum of the Year.   He received his juris doctorate from Yale Law School and was a research assistant at the United Nations. In the 80’s he was a member of the New Paltz College Council and adjunct instructor. Having taught at Temple University, Stellenbosch and the University of the Free State in South Africa, he recently retired from Penn State University after teaching there for nearly 20 years.

Cognitive Science Colloquium Series Begins with Sign Language Lecture

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Dr. Marie Coppola conducts field work to promote equal access to language and education for deaf individuals.

Dr. Marie Coppola will be the first speaker of the 2014-2015 Cognitive Science Colloquium Series. Dr. Coppola is the director of the Language Creation Lab at the University of Connecticut. Her research investigates how sign languages emerge and are created in communities. Her talk will focus on homesign gesture systems (that is, gesture systems developed by deaf individuals who are not exposed to conventional sign or spoken language input), their characteristics, and the developmental consequences of linguistic deprivation with respect to other aspects of cognition.

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Dr. Coppola

Dr. Coppola’s talk, titled “Which aspects of language and cognition depend on linguistic input? Insights from homesign gesture systems” will take place on Thursday, October 23, at 3:30 pm in the Coykendall Science Building Auditorium. The talk is sponsored by Campus Auxiliary Services and by the following programs and departments: Linguistics, Deaf Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Communication Disorders, and Psychology.

Abstract of the Talk:

Researchers in the cognitive sciences have long debated the relationships between linguistic input and language structure, as well as the relationships between language and cognition. Homesign systems offer a unique window into these relationships. Homesigns are gesture systems developed by deaf individuals who are not exposed to conventional sign or spoken language input. Homesign systems exhibit a number of linguistic properties, but appear to lack others, which depend on access to a linguistic model and/or interaction within a language community. Dr. Coppola will show that homesign systems have structure at a variety of levels of linguistic analysis, including phonology and discourse structure. Dr. Coppola will describe some of the developmental consequences of linguistic (but not social) deprivation, particularly with respect to number cognition. Finally, she will discuss her work with Manos Unidas (, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote equal access to language and education for deaf individuals in Nicaragua.

Infant Cognitive Skill-Building the Topic of November Colloquium Talk

Dr. Lisa Scott, director of the Brain, Cognition, and Development Lab at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, will give the second talk for the Cognitive Science Colloquium Series. Her talk, titled “Cognitive Skill Building in Infancy and its Influence on Later Development,” will take place on Friday, November 7, in Lecture Center 104, at 2:30 p.m.

Lisa Scott

Dr. Lisa Scott

Dr. Scott’s research focuses on how the brain and our cognitive and perceptual abilities (for example those involved in recognizing and categorizing faces) develop from infancy through adulthood. Her work, which explores both the behavioral and neural aspects of this learning process, has important implications for our understanding of the specific experiences (visual, linguistic, etc.) that shape the development of perceptual skills. The talk is sponsored by Campus Auxiliary Services and the Psychology Department.


Abstract of the Talk:

Using a combination of cross-sectional and longitudinal-training designs, behavioral measures of looking time, eye-tracking, and electrophysiological recordings of neural activity (event-related potentials; ERPs) we have begun to elucidate the perceptual and cognitive experiences that enhance or bias learning during the first year of life.  Our work suggests that infants carefully learn from their surrounding environment and that this learning influences cognitive, perceptual and social processing.  Here, Dr. Scott will present work that examines the role experience plays in shaping infant learning about people and objects and how parental labeling during the first year of life can serve as a springboard for cognitive skills in childhood.  For example, when infants hear parents label two different monkey faces in a storybook with individual-level names like “Oliver” or “Suzie” they learn that it is likely important for them to attend to the visual details necessary to tell the two monkeys apart.  However, if parents label all monkeys, “monkey” infants learn to group them into a category and focus on the features that the two monkeys share.  These differences can be identified both in behavior and in the brain.  The researchers’ recent findings suggest that individual-level learning in infancy results in skills lasting into early childhood (i.e., 4 years). Specifically, these skills benefit faces and/or objects that are perceived and recognized at the individual level (e.g., human faces).  These results are noteworthy because they link early learning, prior to the onset of productive language and several years prior to formal education, with later cognitive skills and neural responses.

Study Abroad Opportunity in Deaf Studies

Please join us on Monday, October 27 for a slide show and presentation on this exciting study abroad opportunity affiliated with the Deaf Studies program:

Deaf Studies study abroad presentation announcementLearn more about faculty member Rebecca Swenson’s trip to Ethiopia this past summer here:

 Deaf Education and Empowerment in Ethiopia

For more information, contact Rebecca Swenson at


Communication Disorders Graduate Program Open House

Are you interested in applying to graduate school for a degree in Communication Disorders, or do you know someone who is? The Graduate Program in Communication Disorders will be having an open house from 2pm to 4pm on December 18, 2014; join us in Room 22 of the Humanities Building. Here is a link to assist campus visitors:

Campus Visitor Information

Additionally, the program coordinator, Dr. Anne Balant, will be offering informal tours of the department and the Speech, Language and Hearing Center facilities at 2:30pm on two Fridays: October 31 and November 21 – meet in the Humanities Building, Room 14A.

Grad program open house announcement

Seymour Hersh Biography Named Best in U.S.

SUNY New Paltz Journalism Professor Robert Miraldi’s biography of a famous American investigative reporter has been named the best journalism biography in the United States in 2013.

The announcement of the Ann Sperber Biography Award came out recently from Fordham Scoop ArtistUniversity which administers the prestigious prize. Dr. Miraldi, a professor at New Paltz since 1982, will receive his award on Nov. 19 at Fordham’s Manhattan campus.

Professor Brian Rose, acting director of the Sperber Awards for 2014, praised the book as “a probing and provocative investigation of this country’s premier investigative journalist.”

Miraldi’s book, Seymour Hersh: Scoop Artist, chronicles the work of a journalist who many consider to be America’s greatest investigative reporter. Hersh won the Pulitzer Prize for his exposé of the massacre of hundreds of civilians in the village of My Lai in Vietnam in 1968. He then, in 2004, revealed the story of the torture of Iraqis in a prison at Abu Ghraib. Hersh is the author of eight controversial and best-selling books and has won virtually every major award in journalism.

Miraldi joins a distinguished list of biographers who have won the Sperber Award for books on subjects ranging from Walter Cronkite to William Randolph Hearst to Henry Luce, all major figures in American journalism.

“I worked on this Hersh biography for nearly a decade,” Miraldi commented. “So it is gratifying to receive this award and see my Hersh work in with some wonderful other biographies. Hersh is perhaps America’s greatest investigative reporter, and his work deserves this recognition.”

Miraldi added, “The book has a dimension beyond Hersh’s work. He is an iconic figure — irreverent, brash, indefatigable, headstrong, arrogant, and passionate. He is really a great American character.”

The 445-page book, which was published by Potomac Books/University of Nebraska Press, came out last fall and was named one of the 10 best investigative books in the U.S. by Harvard University’s Nieman Reports. The History News Network called it “refreshingly readable and very impressive.”

Miraldi came to New Paltz in 1982 after a career as a reporter. He teaches courses on freedom of speech, press history and news reporting. He has won many awards for his writing and research and was named one of America’s top journalism teachers by the Poynter Institute in 1989.

In 2004, his biography, The Pen Is Mightier (Palgrave/Macmillan Books), was named the best book in the country in media and journalism. That book told the life story of a famous turn-of-the-twentieth century investigative reporter, Charles Edward Russell, who was the most prolific of the so-called “muckraking” journalists.

Dr. Miraldi, who has a PhD in American Studies and a master’s degree in journalism, thanked SUNY New Paltz for its support of this book with a sabbatic leave, reduced teaching time to write, and various grants to fund research.

Miraldi lives in Stone Ridge, N.Y, with his wife, Mary Beth Pfeiffer, a reporter. He has two children and two grandchildren.