New Haven and Yale celebrate community builders who strengthen ‘Elm-Ivy’ bonds

New Haven Mayor Toni Harp and Yale University President Peter Salovey presented six individuals and two groups with Yale University Seton Elm-Ivy Awards at a campus ceremony on April 9.

The annual event, first held more than 30 years ago, celebrates the deep roots of the New Haven-Yale partnership. This year’s ceremony also heralded new beginnings — with Harp and Salovey, both recently inaugurated in their offices, presiding for the first time. The two had started the day together at the annual meeting of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, where Salovey gave a keynote address discussing how New Haven and Yale are “on common ground.” Harp described the state of relations between the city and the university as “friendly, mutually beneficial, and productive” and said the partnership “makes us unique in our corner of the world — and very fortunate.”

The Elm-Ivy Awards honor people whose service strengthens the ties of the university and its hometown — a priority for New Haven and Yale for more than two decades and a continued focus for both the new mayor and president.

The late Fenmore R. Seton ’38 and his wife, Phyllis, established the awards at Yale in 1979, to honor the often-unrecognized day-to-day efforts of committed “town and gown” citizens. Elm Awards are given to members of the New Haven community beyond Yale, and Ivy Awards are given to Yale faculty, staff, and students.

This year’s Elm Awards were given to Chief Dean Esserman of the New Haven Department of Police Service; Natasha Ray, consortia coordinator of New Haven Healthy Start; and Michael Piscitelli, deputy economic development administrator of the City of New Haven.

Ivy Awards were given to Paul Brouard, critic in architecture at Yale and for 25 years the director of the Jim Vlock First Year Building Project; Chief Ronnell Higgins of the Yale University Police; and a group from Yale Information Technology Services (Len Peters, Russell Sharp, Ed Frey, Lisa Sawin, Nancy Flowers-Mangs, Susan West, Randi McCray, and Marcia Schels).

Caroline Smith ’14 received a student Ivy Award, and a group of graduate and professional students — Ana Maria Gomez Lopez (painting, art), Britta Redwood (law), Bryson Rand (photography, art), Catherine Fox (comparative literature), David Burt (architecture), Dan Jones (history), Leonard Curry (divinity), Pauline Trinh (public health), Najwa Mayer (American studies), Tess Korobkin (history of art), Tyler Griffith (history of science and medicine), Yolanda Richard (Divinity School), Zak Arctander (photography, art), Christina Wells (sociology) — received an Ivy Award for their work in the Wurtele Gallery Teacher Program with Jessica Sack at the Yale University Art Gallery.

The full citations of this year’s awardees follow. To see a list of all previous winners, visit the Yale Office of New Haven and State Affairs online and read full coverage of recent years’ winners in YaleNews from 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Elm Ivy Awards Citations

Chief Dean Esserman

When describing his philosophy behind community policing, Chief Esserman has used the phrase "You talk to who you know." Based upon that philosophy, Chief Esserman may never stop talking. He is a strong believer in not trying to go it alone. He cultivates relationships within and throughout the community for the benefit of all.  Before becoming Chief of Police of New Haven in 2011, Esserman had served as Assistant Chief of Police in New Haven from 1991-1993 during the crucial years in which community policing was implemented. Since his return to New Haven, he has worked tirelessly to revitalize the police department through recruiting and training new officers, pushing for promotional exams and building a solid leadership team. During his tenure he has reduced crime and fostered partnerships throughout the City to strengthen the Department's ability to solve problems.

Partnership with Yale University and particularly the Yale Police Department is one of the most constructive collaborations Chief Esserman has nurtured. Whether working with Yale to coordinate security for visiting dignitaries, sitting together in the City Emergency Operations Center to coordinate a storm response, working jointly with other law enforcement agencies to respond to threats on the Yale campus, sharing weekly CompStat meetings or jointly training officers as bomb technicians, the mutual respect and support between the New Haven Police Department and the Yale Police Department is strong and serves both the City and the University well. Recent examples include collaboration in the new police substation as part of the Downtown Community Alliance. Talks began two years ago and this January it became a reality. As Chief Esserman stated at the opening of the substation in reference to his department, the Yale Police Department and the Downtown Ambassadors, "They already do work together, now they share their own home together."

Additionally, last summer, the New Haven Police Department, at the Chief's urging, organized a Police Athletic League summer camp for New Haven youth. As usual, the Chief did not want to engage in this kind of community outreach without strong partners and without combining and utilizing existing available resources. The Department teamed up with Yale Athletics to merge their summer camp programs. The New Haven Police Department and the Yale Police Department officers joined with Yale University student athletes to provide four weeks of sports and other recreational and learning activities free of charge for New Haven youth. This not only demonstrates the cooperative spirit between the New Haven Police Department and Yale, but fostered positive role models and positive engagement of our kids.  

Michael Piscitelli

In New Haven, they are coming – and Michael Piscitelli has been on point in City Hall for 15 years to make sure projects get built, people are able to move around, and the community grows stronger and more united.

He joined New Haven city government in 2000 and has held a series of key job roles – comprehensive planner, transportation director, and, since, 2011, deputy development administrator. In every role he has been a chief connectivity officer – engaging citizens in community design, interpreting city regulations for interested developers, and always making sure that individual projects add to the connections of the urban fabric. Because of him, the sum of the Elm City is as great as its parts.

He and his teams have spent countless thousands of hours over the past decade and a half working with Yale University on community investments, large and small – from lab renovations and streetscape improvements to the construction of a new home for the management school and two new residential colleges. His Yale colleagues report – as do people across the city – that Mike is always the calmest person in the room, generally the most knowledgeable about city history and municipal regulations, forthright in his advocacy of the community’s interests, and a consummate consensus builder.

Just as he helps bring people together around conference tables to discuss design proposals, in meeting rooms for community charrettes, and in aldermanic chambers to move projects from idea to approval, Mike has literally brought New Haven together, making it a more vibrant and urbane place for residents, workers, and visitors and adding to the safety of its streets and sidewalks.

Among many other accomplishments, he pioneered the Safe Street campaign, Yale Safety Committee, and worked to connect the parking authority with many Yale operations. He has also been a key catalyst in the Downtown Crossing project, now under construction on College Street, which as he has noted, “starts to stitch the city back together” by physically connecting the vibrant downtown and the adjacent growing medical center.

Mike’s skills of listening, analyzing, and guiding are equally evident in his role as an instructor and mentor for scores of Yale interns. He has directly supervised many Yale President’s Public Service Fellows and Dwight Hall Fellows, and made time in his busy schedule for numerous other students looking to learn about, report on, or get involved with municipal development and urban planning.  

The canvas of a city’s renaissance is painted by many people. Mike Piscitelli has had an effective, calm, and consistent brushstroke since 2000 and he has organized a diverse set of community players to work together to paint the bright picture of New Haven today. With a combination of wisdom and humor, persistence and calm, he has been a model city planner and an exemplar of how excellent public service can connect people and build community.

Natasha Ray

Natasha Ray has been working in the New Haven community for the past 15 years to improve the health and lives of New Haven residents. Currently serving as the Consortium Development Coordinator for the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven's New Haven Healthy Start Initiative, she serves as a bridge between New Haven consumers, medical providers, and other community agencies to assist in building a community-driven approach to reducing infant mortality rates in New Haven. During this time she has worked to strengthen the relationships between Yale researchers and the New Haven community, as she strongly believes that involvement of the community in research and researchers in the community will only serve to improve health equity in New Haven.

In her role at New Haven Healthy Start, Natasha has worked closely with many Yale organizations, including serving as a member on Yale's Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program's Steering Committee for Community Projects and Yale's Community Alliance for Research and Engagement's research capacity committee. Recently, Natasha worked in partnership with Yale to explore the relationship between community leaders and university researchers in research. This work has been shared not only across the University and the city, but also with national audiences. Working collaboratively with Yale University partners, Natasha has designed and developed practical tools that community organizations and university researchers can use to maximize the benefits of research for all partners and for the residents of New Haven.  Her leadership in partnering with other scholars led to an increase of 75% in the vaccination rate for whooping cough at Saint Raphael's while the national average is 5%.

Of equal importance, Natasha is described by her colleagues and partners as warm, friendly, sincere, caring, and generous with her time. Her combination of warmth and steely resolve contributes to her compassionate commitment to improving the human condition.  

Paul Brouard

Paul Brouard has served as Director of the James Vlock Yale Building Project for thirty-five years. Every year, as part of this program, students at Yale design and build a home in a New Haven community. Now in Paul’s final year of service to the Yale School of Architecture, one would be remiss not to note and recognize his deep contributions and collaboration with New Haven. Over the past 35 years, Paul Brouard has trained and supervised first year architecture students as they endeavored to construct their projects, primarily one and two- family homes in New Haven for low- to moderate- income buyers. Two outstanding public projects of note were the dismountable stage used on the New Haven Green for many years and the picnic pavilion at Lighthouse Point Park that resembles an ocean wave.

The dozens of houses, constructed in several different neighborhoods in partnership with area housing non-profits, are unique and notable buildings that enhance the surrounding streetscapes and provide uplifting and comfortable dwellings for first-time low- and moderate-income buyers.

Paul has patiently instructed hundreds, or more accurately, thousands of young architectural students who looked to him for practical advice on how to translate a design concept into a safe and serviceable building.  Students are shown how to use tools, order materials, and are guided through the entire construction process from beginning to end. More significantly, however, Paul introduces his new students to New Haven in a way that breaks down all barriers by working side by side directly in the neighborhood in which the homes are being built.

Anyone who knows Paul understands what a pleasant, caring, knowledgeable person he is. He truly fills the highest calling of a teacher, which is to share your knowledge with your students generously, inspire them, and help them to realize their talent. Paul’s focus on community engagement and neighborhood involvement has indeed inspired his students over the years to become more socially responsible in their future careers. His continuous engagement and commitment to working with and in the community, despite any obstacles or challenges, speaks to his passion for New Haven.

Chief Ronnell Higgins

Chief Ronnell A. Higgins understands the meaning of teamwork. As the son of a New Haven Police Department patrolman, Chief Higgins’ ability to understand and relate to others helped propel his steady rise through the ranks since joining the Yale Police Department in the summer of 1997.  Sworn in as Chief of the Yale Police Department in 2011, Chief Higgins has been instrumental in designing and implementing strategies to reduce crime at Yale to the lowest levels since the department began reporting UCR Crimes in 1985. With an emphasis on community policing, public safety, and crime reduction, Chief Higgins’ reputation for leadership, experience, and exemplary achievement reflects his ability to drive change, broker exceptional intercommunity relationships, and ensure overall public safety.

Chief Higgins’ goal of bridging the gap between the community and the department is exemplified in many ways, particularly in his outreach to local youth. He regularly visits New Haven schools to speak frankly of his experiences growing up, the mistakes he made, and the means by which he made them into successes. Emphasizing the importance of a good education, he inspires students to work hard and pursue their dreams. Whether serving as a judge for the New Haven Reads Spelling Bee or encouraging New Haven Promise students to apply for paid internships with the Yale Police Department, Chief Higgins’ warm smile and approachability allow people of all ages to feel comfortable in his presence.

Under Chief Higgins’ leadership, Yale Police officers teamed up with New Haven Police Department officers, Yale football players, and other members of the community to staff Camp New Haven, a summer program offered to 200 New Haven youth. From athletic to educational activities, everyone worked together to provide safe and fun alternatives to staying at home during the summer while interacting with positive role models on a day-to-day basis.

In addition to his focus on youth outreach and engagement, Chief Higgins works to increase the public’s understanding and awareness of police operations and responsibilities through his Citizen’s Police Academy. The program, open to members of the New Haven and Yale communities, incorporates classroom training and hands-on activities and includes sessions on investigative services, patrol procedures, personal safety, and emergency preparedness.

Finally, perhaps one of the more visible recent examples of Chief Higgins’ commitment to teamwork is the establishment of the Downtown Community Alliance. Working in partnership with the New Haven Police Department and Town Green Special Service District, this shared police substation reflects the physical results of two years of discussions to further collaboration and cooperation downtown.

Yale Information Technology Services: Leonard Peters, Russell Sharp, Lisa Sawin, Nancy Flowers-Mangs, Susan West, Randi McCray, Marcia Schels, Ed Frey (not pictured)

Yale University’s Information Technology Services Department provides computing and communications infrastructure, services, support, and innovation for the entire Yale community.  However, in addition to serving the thousands of people on the Yale campus, the ITS Department, under the leadership of CIO Len Peters, is a model of collaboration, partnership, and leadership, and has demonstrated genuine commitment to the growth of the City of New Haven and its residents through economic development, training, and education.  Recognizing an opportunity for youth and under-represented groups to explore various careers in technology, Yale’s IT department has created many different internship and job pipeline programs specifically geared for New Haven residents.

In partnership with Yale’s Director of New Haven Community Hiring Initiatives and the New Haven Public School system, Yale ITS founded a ‘Youth in IT’ initiative providing internships, resume writing and interview skills assistance, job-specific training, coaching, mentoring, counseling and soft skills training for New Haven youth.

 “Youth in ITS Boot Camp” offers local high schoolers a chance to participate in a six-week program during which they design and build projects that will build community, increase technology skills, and provide a service that can enhance the digital participation of their peers.

Yale ITS doesn’t only focus on high school students but also extends summer employment opportunities to local college students interested in the ITS field. In keeping their commitment to local youth, working in partnership with New Haven Promise, half of these internships will go directly to Promise Scholars this year.  The department also hosts an 18-month paid rotational internship program for local college graduates and six-month apprenticeships for New Haven residents.

Caroline Smith

Caroline Smith can write an email, a really good email. They are thoughtful and intriguing and she sends them often.  More than anything else, she writes about New Haven, urging her fellow Yale undergraduates to participate in local activities. She persuades fellow students to attend the Mayor's State of the City, to participate in yoga at Mitchell Library, or to visit the indoor winter market at Metropolitan Business Academy.  For the past four years, Caroline has immersed herself in the city of New Haven and in the process she has fallen in love. As a Yale senior, Caroline puts her community above all else. She does not aim to bridge the gap between New Haven and Yale; for Caroline, the two communities are one.

For the past three years, Caroline has served as a Future Coach for the Future Project, an organization that pairs New Haven high school students with mentors. Together, she and her mentee created a photography project to benefit the community.

This past summer, Caroline turned down opportunities to work at well-known technology companies in order to spend her summer in New Haven working at the Mayor's office as a Yale Presidential Public School Fellow. In this role Caroline created a residents' guide to New Haven. In order to make the guide, Caroline biked all around New Haven talking to individuals she came across asking them what they thought made their neighborhood special. In the end she produced and presented a beautiful guide to living in New Haven, but more than that she had formed meaningful relationships with people across the city.

Although Caroline has served both Yale and New Haven in official capacities, it is her small, subtle actions that relay the level of her compassion and commitment to New Haven. In early mornings, Caroline can be found picking up trash around the City. During the winter, Caroline grabs a shovel and helps New Haven residents find their way out of the snow. Her dedication to the service of others and her commitment to share her passion for New Haven is evident in all that she does.

Wurtele Gallery Teacher Program at Yale University Art Gallery: Britta Redwood; Bryson Rand; Catherine Fox; David Burt; Dan Jones; Leonard Curry; Pauline Trinh; Najwa Mayer; Tyler Griffith; Yolanda Richard; Zak Arctander; Christina Wells

Art galleries can be overwhelming with their vast collections of priceless works. Since its inception in 2005, the Wurtele Gallery Teacher program has focused on breaking down those barriers by welcoming K-12 students, visitors with special needs, teachers and families and helping them explore the Gallery. Supporting the Gallery's teaching mission, Yale graduate students, from a variety of fields ranging from art and architecture to public health and law, spend 15 hours a week working with these visitors to the Gallery. Through a competitive application process, Gallery Teachers are selected for their teaching skills and commitment to public service. The Gallery Teachers help enable the Gallery to make its collection accessible to the thousands of families, teachers, and school children who visit each year.

Last year, the Gallery Teachers taught more than 12,000 K-12 students. Among these were New Haven Public School third graders, part of a long-standing collaboration with the district which sends all third graders on multi-visit programs to the Yale museums. Beyond just individual school visits to the galleries, Gallery Teachers also organize collaborations with schools where students visit multiple times over the course of the year and connect with the collection in a variety of ways. For example, Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School students visit the Gallery each week throughout the year for thematic lessons that support their classroom work. In addition to teaching students, Gallery Teachers provide customized professional development for teachers and collaborate in the development of curricula connecting the museum and classroom learning.

Gallery Teachers also provide exceptional services for family visitors as well as visitors with special needs. The Gallery Teachers lead the Gallery’s annual family day with a robust schedule of storytelling and art-making activities. Stories and Art, a monthly program that connects storytelling and looking at art has grown in popularity over the years. One tremendous example of the Gallery Teachers’ work is specialized teaching sessions offered to persons with memory loss to engage them with the collection through conversation and activities.