David Ngibuini ’14

David Ngibuini ’14 is a project manager with the global health services company Cigna. Among his interests are the areas of internet security, vulnerability management and network intrusion. Ngibuini also supervises the very program that introduced him to the business: Eastern’s on-campus Technology Early Career Development Program, an internship partnership with Cigna.

Computer Science Major
David Ngibuini

Chris Gardella ’15

Chris GardellaChris Gardella works as an accountant at KPMG and also volunteers with Eastern students in the VITA program (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance). Gardella started volunteering as a student and now serves as a site coordinator for tax sites in Willimantic. “VITA impacted my career as an accountant and opened the door for me at KPMG,” he said. “The program also impacted my life personally. The reactions and gratitude you get from clients definitely leaves a mark on you. That alone is what keeps me coming back and what drives me to continue working with VITA for years to come.”

Accounting major, staff accountant at KPMG

 

Brett Kjellen ’95

Brett KjellenFor Brett Kjellen ’95, Eastern Connecticut State University was not his first choice of colleges. The once-aspiring economics major envisioned himself at a prestigious business school. To appease his father, however, he gave Eastern a shot and wound up discovering his love of biology. Dr. Kjellen is now an optometrist with a group practice in Berlin. “It’s amazing looking back; any success I had was really built on the foundation I got at Eastern.”

Kjellen thinks back to when he was searching for colleges. “My father suggested I go somewhere I could get a little more well-rounded education; ‘if you go somewhere that’s just business, you’re pigeon-holed there.’”

As part of Eastern’s liberal arts curriculum, Kjellen took classes outside of the Economics Department. “I took a human biology class and loved it, so I changed my major. That changed my life. If I hadn’t taken that class I wouldn’t have discovered my love for biology and ended up where I am today.”

The quality of the faculty is what convinced Kjellen to stick around. “You can tell the professors are in love with their subject matter; they care about what they do and they pass it on to you,” he said. “When you get to know them, you want to perform well for them; they’re role models, people you look up to and want to emulate.”

Kjellen recalls working as a teacher’s assistant and conducting Alzheimer’s research closely with professors. “At bigger universities, sometimes you’re not able to get in with professors and do that, but at Eastern, they were instrumental in developing my love of science.”

In a fine arts appreciation class — another seemingly unrelated liberal arts requirement — Kjellen was given some invaluable interview advice: when you step into an office, look around for something to talk about outside of your scholastics.

“When I was going in for my interview for graduate school, the doctor had a racquetball racquet in the corner. I took a racquetball class at Eastern and ended up chatting about it for a couple minutes with the guy. I’m not sure if that got me into grad school, but it helped to break the ice and made the interview go a lot smoother. How could I predict that class would have any bearing on my future? But it did.”

In optometry school, “I felt just as well prepared if not more so as other students from bigger-name universities,” he said. “You never think that Eastern would be such a powerhouse, but it really is, and for the sciences, it’s fantastic.”

In his optometry practice, Kjellen relies on his Eastern education to this day to work on diseases and other challenging ocular cases. “They teach you how to be strict with the scientific method; how to form a hypothesis, how to test it and how to analyze the data. That was great for my research and taught me to think critically. When you’re diagnosing patients — if you’re asking the right probing questions, if you have the right hypothesis in mind — use your physical examination to test that hypothesis. That kind of scientific method they taught me is still paying dividends today.

“When you get part way to your destination and look back on the path that brought you there, you see what was impactful, and Eastern was definitely that,” concluded Kjellen. “I can’t be happier with what I’ve gotten from them.”

 

Lily Egan ’15

Lily EganProximity to her home in Chaplin and the town of Willimantic, with its budding art scene and vibrant Main Street, is what originally drew Lily Egan ’15 to Eastern Connecticut State University. But a sense of community and change in career aspirations is what kept her here.

“I’ve always loved Willimantic, the arts, the culture,” said Egan, a communication major who originally planned to attend Eastern for two years before going on to fashion school. She remembers visiting campus for the first time. “A random student offered to show me and my father around campus. I felt right at home.”

That summer, Egan enrolled in STEP/CAP (Summer Transition at Eastern Program/Contract Admissions Program), an intensive program for first-generation, economically disadvantaged or underrepresented students.

“I grew up in a pretty poor household,” said Egan. “That (program) really helped prepare me for freshman year. We got a sneak peek of college life before everyone else.”

Egan’s career aspirations began to evolve when she became involved on campus. “During high school, I wanted to be involved, but couldn’t because of lack of transportation,” she said. “But here, it’s all in one place!” Egan joined the clubs Fashion Forward, Yearbook, Repertory Dance Troupe and People Helping People.

Eventually she found her way to the Center for Community Engagement (CCE), where she volunteered with CCAR (Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery), Windham Public Schools and CLiCK (Willimantic’s community kitchen). She even helped organize special events like Town Pride Town Wide (a town-wide trash pickup) and Eastern’s Poverty Awareness Marathon and fundraiser.

“I remember sophomore year when I was still in a rut because I was confused about my calling,” she said. “Then I asked myself, what have I always loved to do? Help people.” Egan recalled volunteering at homeless shelters and soup kitchens when she was younger. “It showed me that I actually had a lot more than I thought. It’s engrained in my blood; helping in my community is a part of who I am.”

Egan was able to incorporate her work with the community into a distinguished research project. Her project on food labeling and how people choose groceries based on packaging won first prize in the Communication Department at Eastern’s Excellence Expo, which led to her getting published and giving presentations at two other conferences.

Now that Egan has graduated, she wants to keep on this path, whether working in public health or in youth development. She has graduate school, AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps in mind.

 

Richard Cutting ’09

Richard Cutting ’09 has a private practice as a chiropractor at Cutting Edge Chiropractic in Tolland, CT. During his journey to earn a Doctor of Chiropractic degree, Cutting attended six colleges and universities. “The quality of education in Eastern’s biology department was by far superior to the others,” he said. “The amount the professors care and take time to sit with you… they’re hands down the best.” The future looks promising for the young doctor’s private practice, which already serves several hundred patients.

Biology Major

Richard Cutting

Tomas Colon ’15

Tomas ColonLast year, Tomas Colon ’15 joined the ranks of Eastern Connecticut State University’s growing number of nontraditional alumni. The 12-year military veteran graduated with a degree in sociology, and in doing so, achieved a lifelong dream, fulfilled a promise to his mother and immediately put his degree to use. The first-generation college graduate is now a fatherhood support provider for the Great Beginnings program at Madonna Place, a nonprofit organization based out of Norwich.

“I’m a big momma’s boy,” said Colon, 40, who grew up without a father figure. “She did everything she could to raise us. She made me promise that after the military I would go back and get my education.”

After several years of employment at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, working various armed security jobs, Colon enrolled at Three Rivers Community College and earned an associate’s degree in human services. “I wanted my mother to know that her sacrifices were not in vain.”

In 2013, he transferred to Eastern and declared a major in sociology. “It was an opportunity to look at human services from a broader perspective.”

While many nontraditional students take classes at Eastern’s Groton site, Colon decided to commute to the main campus in Willimantic. “It was an experience, being older in class; I really enjoyed it,” he said. “I was able to share a lot of my own experience and knowledge, and found myself providing a bit of guidance, which was awesome.”

With a challenging sociology curriculum, the Eastern faculty helped Colon achieve his goals. “Not only were they accessible, they were understanding of the challenges of being a nontraditional student,” said Colon, reflecting on his full-time work obligations and responsibilities as a father of four.

One professor turned out to be particularly helpful. In an anthropology course with Professor Ricardo Perez, Colon was assigned to perform academic-based community service, or “service learning.”

“Service learning is what actually inspired me to apply for the position at Madonna Place,” said Colon. “That’s the wonderful thing about Eastern in general. Students are encouraged to get out into the community and get a pulse of what’s going on; it’s a wonderful experience for undergraduates.”

In his role as a fatherhood support provider, Colon works with fathers of at-risk families, helping them understand the details of childhood development. “We try to give them the tools to better understand their children in an effort to minimize child abuse and neglect,” he said. “It’s humbling to know you can be a part of something so incredible.”

But Colon isn’t stopping. He is now enrolled in a master’s program at Liberty University, where he is studying human services counseling. Still he thinks back to the day his dream came true: “The second I received my Eastern diploma in the mail — a lot of laughter, joy and tears from my wife and kids — we raced over to mom’s. It was a beautiful experience to finally have that degree in my hands.”

 

Emily Cameron ’15

Emily CameronWhen math major Emily Cameron ’15 came to Eastern Connecticut State University, she thought she wanted to become a teacher. That was before a variety of enriching experiences opened her eyes to other opportunities. Now, the recent graduate is amid a term of service with AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America), working at the very organization that opened her eyes: Eastern.

“I live, eat and breathe Eastern,” said Cameron, who has really taken the classic adage “it is what you make it” to heart. Whether it was serving as a SOC (Student Orientation Counselor), studying abroad in England, building houses in South Carolina with Habitat for Humanity, interning with Windham Public Schools or volunteering with Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE), Cameron took every opportunity Eastern offered her to get involved.

“Something Eastern has really instilled in me is the value of community service,” said Cameron, who is now turning that value into a career steppingstone. “As a VISTA, my main role is to work with the tutoring, mentoring and afterschool programs the CCE works with throughout Willimantic.” Cameron coordinates the programs and mobilizes Eastern’s many students who volunteer in Windham Public Schools.

“Volunteering is the best way to figure out what kind of courses or path you want to take for the future,” she said. “I thought I wanted to be a teacher and then I volunteered in schools and realized I couldn’t last all day as a teacher.”

Cameron credits her new career path and aspirations to Eastern’s liberal arts education. “The liberal arts definitely helped solidify my roots in community service and my desire to help people,” she said. “If I was just studying math, I wouldn’t have taken the “Latino’s in the United States” course that turned out to be really eye-opening and helpful with my work here in Willimantic.

“A liberal arts education is invaluable, especially if you aren’t sure what you want to do,” continued Cameron, who reflects fondly on past psychology and science classes, and even the writing intensive course on short stories that she thought she would dread. “Even if you know what you want to do, it’s just good to be educated in things other than your field.”

Cameron’s service with AmeriCorps VISTA is set to conclude this coming summer. The humanitarian mathematician will then set off for Australia, where she may pursue employment at various youth camps or community organizations.

“I have a lot of things I want to do in my lifetime,” she said. “I’m not really sure what I’m going to do in the future but my math education has been extremely beneficial, even if I don’t pursue it as a career.”

 

Amanda Brycki ’05

“The faculty at Eastern instilled hope and confidence in me that I could pursue a successful career in psychology. They gave me guidance in what strategies to use to get into graduate school, how to sort through programs, and what classes to take. They challenged me.”

Psychology Major
Practice Manager Outpatient Behavioral Health Services
United Community & Family Services

Khrystyna Stefak ’11

“Since graduating, I’ve worked at Trinity College, the University of Bridgeport, and I just landed an incredible job at Wesleyan University. Eastern taught me how to develop relationships with people of different ages, races, backgrounds and perspectives; how to organize events; and how to work in a professional setting.”

Business Administration Major
Assistant Director of Alumni and Parent Relations
Wesleyan University

Carly Martin ’07

“With the support of Eastern’s faculty and administration, I was able to tailor my college experience to my unique and challenging life circumstances. I was given the flexibility to create a meaningful degree that reflected my professional and personal aspirations.”

Expressive Visual Arts Major
Owner of Silver Circle Gallery
Putnam