Tag Archives: Yale University

For Staples Grads, Choosing A College Was Easy. Now The Tough Choices Begin.

When first-year students head to Dartmouth College in September, they’ll make history.

Everyone will have their own room, or live in a 2-bedroom double. After being tested for COVID-19, those who are negative will quarantine in their rooms for 14 days. All meals will be delivered.

Anyone violating the strict coronavirus protocols — including being in another student’s room — must leave campus within 24 hours. That won’t be difficult: Students have been told to bring “only those items they can take with them if required to leave on short notice.”

None of that bothers Sam Laskin. The recent Staples High School graduate is excited to attend the school that accepted him early decision last December.

Sam Laskin

Sam — who served as Staples Players president — was attracted to Dartmouth by its focus on undergraduate education, strong government program and great extracurriculars.

Classes — most of them conducted remotely — will be far different this fall. Many clubs will not meet in person. Even Dartmouth’s vaunted first-year orientation program — featuring camping and hiking trips — has been canceled.

After the pandemic slammed into Staples — knocking out, along with everything else, Players’ spring production of “Seussical” just hours before opening night — Sam kept busy.

He worked with Players directors David Roth and Kerry Long on a virtual show. He MC-ed the Class of 2020’s graduation video.

And he waited to hear Dartmouth’s plan. When it was announced that his class (and juniors) had “priority” for this fall — though members of those classes could opt to study entirely remotely, or take a gap year — he decided to head to Hanover.

“I had a great 4 years at Staples. But I’m ready to move on,” Sam explains. “I want to be in an environment where everyone is learning.

“I want to meet people in real life, not on social media. A huge reason I chose Dartmouth is the community. Some traditions will be gone this year, but the school is committed to bringing us into the Dartmouth community. I want to be there for it.”

Most of Sam’s friends will attend their schools this fall. He cannot think of any who will take a gap year because of the virus.

This is a “harrowing time,” Sam admits. Yet he has faith that his classmates — those from Staples, and soon at Dartmouth — will emerge from it with strength of character, and a desire to do good things in the world.

“Life goes on,” he says. “We adapt and adjust.”

Like Sam, recent Staples graduate Patricio Perez Elorza has been accepted by an Ivy League school.

But he will not be there this fall.

Patricio Perez Elorza

COVID struck while Patricio was still weighing his school choices. He chose Yale University because of its excellent academic reputation, including pre-law program; its proximity to New York City, where he hopes to work; the “vibrant” city of New Haven, and the school spirit.

He was also impressed by “Bulldog Days”: a series of Zoom videos and conferences throughout April.

But when he was given the option of enrolling for the fall semester or deferring admission, Patricio chose the latter.

“A lot of the college experience is meeting new people, going to class and interacting with professors,” he says.

“With almost every class online, you miss all that. I like learning in person.”

He also would miss participating in a business club and club soccer, neither of which would occur this fall.

And — because only sophomores, juniors and seniors will be on campus next spring — he decided to wait until next fall.

He’s already got a gap year job: launching and managing an app to help the O Living construction firm with its projects. He’ll take a course to learn Excel, and stay involved with both the Staples soccer program and his St. Luke Church youth group.

In the spring, when restrictions may ease, he hopes to travel.

Of Patricio’s friends, one will attend Yale this fall. Some are going to college; others will stay home, studying online. A few are taking gap years.

Their moods vary, he says. “The ones who are going to school are optimistic. They hope for the best. The others are doing gap years because they think college won’t be what they expected.”

The high school Class of 2020 has been through a lot. As they begin their next journey, the college Class of 2024 faces much more uncharted territory.

Nick Massoud’s Spizzwinks Circle The Globe — And Find Westport

There are nearly 20 a cappella groups at Yale University.

With his strong musical background at Staples High School, Nick Massoud could have auditioned for any. But he was drawn to the Spizzwinks.

The group offered something unique: During each member’s 3 years, they tour all 6 inhabited continents. And they perform in each member’s hometown.

Nick Massoud

Music was always part of Massoud’s life. He played in Betsy Tucker’s Long Lots steel band. He sang in musicals at Bedford Middle School, and with Staples Players.

Orphenians — the high school’s elite singing group — became his family.

Two years ago, director Luke Rosenberg’s group was invited to San Francisco. They sang at Chanticleer’s National Choral Festival. As they drove around the city and out to the redwood forest, they kept singing.

Massoud — who was also involved in Wreckers InTune, the debate team and JSA, and served as president of Top Hat Tutors — realized he could not give up music in college.

Spizzwinks are no part-time commitment. Last year they performed 97 concerts, at schools, nursing homes, churches and clubs. The non-profit choir is entirely student run. Members plan international tours, raise money, and handle logistics.

The Spizzwinks sing for Joe Biden and John Kerry. Nick Massoud is in the center — wearing a blue Yale tie.

“I saw an opportunity to use a lot of the skills I picked up running Top Hat, in a musical setting to facilitate 2 things I love: traveling, and singing with friends,” Massoud says.

Now, as a junior majoring in global affairs — with a concentration in international development — he is the group’s business manager.

He’s performed with them in China, Europe, New Zealand, Indonesia, Iowa, Hawaii and Alaska. They’ve sung for Joe Biden, John Kerry, the Italian prime minister, China’s vice premier, Lady Gaga and Melania Trump.

The Spizzwinks and Lady Gaga snap a selfie.

This year they’re scheduled for Morocco, Chile, Argentina and South Africa.

This month, he brings the Spizzwinks to Westport.

Sure, every member hosts the group at some point. But Massoud thinks the concerts in his home town are special.

“Having met so many people in college, I realize that growing up in a place that supports the arts so significantly is rare,” he says.

“Thinking back on it, it’s crazy that we could sell out the Staples auditorium 7 or 8 times for shows. It says a lot about our community. I’m excited to show my closest college friends the support Westport gives to the arts.”

The Westport schedule is packed. There’s an evening concert at Assumption Church (details in the poster above), a performance and master class at Bedford, and a session with the Staples choir.

That does not allow much time for Massoud to show off Westport. However, he will make sure to take the Spizzwinks to Sherwood Diner.

That’s where he and his fellow Players headed after every show — often in full makeup.

Massoud has traveled the globe with his group. However, he says, “bringing the Spizzwinks to my home, and showing them my community, feels like the most important thing I’ve done with them.

“I can’t wait to introduce them to some of my friends, and to the amazing, inspiring arts teachers in our schools.”

(Click here for the Spizzwinks’ new album, “Hometown.” Click below for their version of “Cry Me a River” — featuring Nick Massoud.)


Antonella Lisanti: Engineer Without Borders

Despite good intentions, many overseas service organizations miss the mark.  They may sweep in, build or fix something or provide a solution to a difficult problem, then leave and move on somewhere else.

Antonella Lisanti’s group — Engineers Without Borders — does good.  But it also makes sure the good survives after it goes.

The 2008 Staples grad — currently a biomedical engineering and pre-med major — has been involved with Yale’s student chapter for several years.  She applied as much for the travel opportunities as anything else.  But after being selected — and getting her hands dirty on a few projects – she was hooked.

Antonella Lisanti builds a latrine with a villager in Kikoo, Cameroon.

A recent experience in Cameroon cemented her belief in the importance of EWB.  The community of Kikoo had always used water from polluted streams.  The result was a continuing plague of waterborne illnesses like gastrointestinal infections and dysentery.

The Yale team designed a water distribution and storage system to alleviate water pollution.  Antonella was involved in latrines.

That’s a lot harder than it sounds.

“We were building latrines with better ventilation, and that are more sanitary,” she explains.  The group spent plenty of time before arriving trying to figure where to place the latrines.  Without cellphone or email access, that’s not easy.

One of the latrines — for an elementary school — was designed with 2 holes:  one for males, one for females.  But when the group arrived, the headmaster said he wanted a 3rd, for teachers.

“There was a lot of negotiating,” Antonella says.  Her group altered their design, reconfigured their supplies, changed concrete slabs, and ultimately provided the village with the latrines it needed — and wanted.

Their work — which included 9 kilometers of PVC piping, and 14 standpipes — did not end there.

“Engineering projects can make people’s lives better,” Antonella says.

“But you can’t go into a developing country with your own agenda.  You can’t just build a latrine; you need training.  And then you have to help the community take ownership of it.”

EWB works with the same communities, year after year.  “They feel these projects are their own,” she says of the villagers.  “We train them on maintenance.  We go back.  We address problems.  We’re really partners with them.”

It's not all work and no play for Antonella Lisanti in Cameroon.

There are over 250 EWB-USA chapters, including 180 on college campuses.  They work on more than 350 projects in dozens of developing countries.

This year, Antonella’s Yale chapter — of which she is now co-president — received EWB-USA’s Premier Project Award.

It’s a tremendous honor.  But Antonella deflects credit, to her fellow volunteers and their mentor, Dave Sacco.  “We learn so much from him,” she says.  “Not just engineering, but thinking on our feet, working with different cultures, learning to navigate community politics.”

Her experience in developing countries has solidified a desire to continue this type of work, focusing on health issues.  After graduating next spring, she hopes to work in the public health sector, before heading to med school.

Antonella’s love for science was nurtured at Staples.  The high school “trained me to be diligent,” she says.  “I learned to stick with things, no matter how difficult — like college, and the trip to Cameroon.”

Westport was “wonderful” to grow up in, she says — “but it’s a small place.”  Going to college made me realize there’s so much more to the world.  I really want to see it.”

College students talk about graduating, and heading out into “the real world.”

Antonella Lisanti has 2 semesters to go.  But in many ways, she’s already there.

(EWB accepts contributions to help fund its projects:  Engineers Without Borders — Yale Student Chapter, PO Box 206615, New Haven, CT 06520.  For more information, email antonella.lisanti@yale.edu).