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Eastern Opens New Center for Community Engagement

Written by Jack Meltzer


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  Tom DeVivo, president of the Windham Board of Selectmen, applauded the center's plans to work more closely with local schools and human services agencies.


 Willimantic, Conn. - More than 125 area residents, city officials, business leaders, nonprofit agency heads and other community partners were on hand on Sept. 8 to help Eastern Connecticut State University celebrate the opening of its new Center for Community Engagement (CCE).

Eastern President Elsa Nunez said the new center is designed to expand on Eastern's legacy of community service but will provide a new focus on service learning that will link Eastern students' classroom learning to their work in the community. "Our work will not take place in a vacuum," said Nunez. "We will work closely with our community partners to address important community concerns such as education, the environment, human services and the democratic process." 

In describing Eastern's 120-year history in Willimantic, Nunez cited several recent examples of students engaged in the community, including the pro bono graphic design work of Eastern visual arts students throughout Willimantic; energy audits that Eastern environmental science students have performed for hundreds of schools throughout Connecticut; and the work political science students did prior to the 2006 election to register more than 100 Latino residents who did not know they had the right to vote, just to name a few. 

Roger Adams, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce/Windham Region, congratulated Eastern on continuing its tradition of working within the local community with a new emphasis, and said the chamber has provided internships to 60 to 80 Eastern seniors over the past 31 years.

Tom DeVivo, president of the Windham Board of Selectmen, recalled going to kindergarten in Noble School, which was used for used for years as a lab school for Eastern's student teachers.  He applauded the center's plans to work more closely with local schools and human services agencies - "where the people are."

Eric Martin, associate professor of business administration, has worked closely with the town's leadership on the current Willimantic Whitewater Project. He said, "By institutionalizing service learning, we can better coordinate and assess our students' service to the community." 

Martin said Eastern was "a great stockpile of resources" and that faculty will now be able to use community opportunities in a smarter way. 

                                       CCE- Monica and.JPGAmeriCorps VISTA volunteers Monica Rochon '09 and Beth Zambrano work in Eastern's new Center for Community Engagement.


Monica Rochon '09, who now serves on the CCE's staff as a VISTA volunteer, talked about the Sisterhood project with Windham Public Schools for at-risk females being led by Health and Physical Education Professor Nanette Tummers. "Through this service learning, experience I was able to build trust with my little sister by showing up each week for our sessions, attending her volleyball games at Windham High School, and showing her that I genuinely cared about her aspirations. Just as I built trust with my mentee, the CCE is here to build trust with business owners and agencies in the community."

Jacqueline Bishop '12 first got involved with community service when her freshman roommate convinced her to attend the first meeting of a new student club, People Helping People.  This past Friday, this fast-growing student organization, dedicated to serving the local community, signed up more than 200 new student volunteers.  Bishop said there is "an abundance of interest" among Eastern students in helping the community.  To manage this level of interest, the club has developed six work teams around health care, education, the environment, politics, global issues and human services.  She also mentioned the Day of Giving and Town Wide/Town Pride as two annual events that energize the entire campus while making significant contributions to the local community.


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Kim Silcox, interim director of the new Center for Community Engagement, speaks with Leigh Duffy, director of Health Care Access for Generations Health Care.


Kim Silcox, the CEE's interim director, wrapped up the celebration by noting that the creation of the CCE had grown out of the strategic planning process initiated three years ago by President Nunez.  She referenced two of Eastern's core values -- social responsibility and engagement -- and said that "Students now expect us to provide them with experiential learning opportunities."  Silcox indicated that with the help of Eastern's two VISTA volunteers, the peer support provided by the People Helping People student club, and the efforts of other CCE staff, Eastern students will now have the opportunity to "enhance their skills through applied learning projects." 

Silcox said "Service must become part of our student culture," and cited several examples of where this is already happening, ranging from the work of Professor Alex Citurs' students in creating a database for the Covenant Soup Kitchen, to a project involving English Professor Laura Rosenberg's students who are helping local businesses write business plans. 


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