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Students Study Tropical Rainforests in Costa Rica

Written by Michael Rouleau

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Willimantic, Conn. - This past May, 14 students from Eastern Connecticut State University took a 12-day field course in Costa Rica to study tropical biology. The trip focused on the basic aspects of tropical rainforest ecology and the natural history of tropical organisms.

This course is among Eastern's most prominent global field courses, and has been offered by the Biology Department since 1968. "The trip to Costa Rica was an incredible experience," said Jackie Lagasse '14, a biochemistry major from Colchester. "I had the opportunity to conduct research in a completely new ecosystem with guidance from three outstanding professors."

Amid their research, students worked in small groups to complete projects and discussed literature relating to tropical rainforest ecosystems. Other topics observed during the trip included the peculiarities of tropical agriculture, the socioeconomic consequences of development in the tropics, and tropical ecosystem conservation. "The research completed this year was of the highest quality and reflects the academic excellence of participating students," said faculty advisor and Biology Professor Patricia Szcyzs.

The group also enjoyed a tour of Costa Rica, where they hiked on the base of an active volcano, visited a pineapple plantation, an abandon cacao (chocolate) plantation and the premier tropical biology research station in the Western Hemisphere, La Selva Biological Research Station.

"Roughly half the students were seniors, and the experience served as a capstone to their Eastern careers," said Szczys. "We had a great trip!" Lagasse concluded with, "The trip introduced me to new organisms, new research opportunities, and a new sense on what it means to study biology."

Eastern Hosts Health, Life Sciences Summer Research Program

Written by Michael Rouleau

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Willimantic, Conn. - From May 27-July 3, Eastern Connecticut State University hosted a six-week research experience called the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP). SURP is a component of the Connecticut Health and Life Sciences Career Initiative, a three-year program of the Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education focused on preparing Connecticut's workforce for the growing health and life sciences sector.

The initiative involves Eastern and six other Connecticut state colleges. Norwalk, Gateway, Middlesex, Capital and Manchester community colleges are developing and revising programs that prepare students to meet the workforce needs of the health and life sciences field. Charter Oak State College is providing prior learning assessments to ensure students get credit for military service and other learning, and Eastern is the host of SURP, the hands-on summer research component.

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"This is the first exposure to health and life sciences for many of the students involved," said Lesley Mara, project director of the initiative. "Prior to the program, many of them weren't aware of the study or career opportunities in this field."

The Connecticut Health and Life Sciences Career Initiative is funded by a $12.1 million Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. Under the grant, being administered by Norwalk Community College, Eastern will host SURP again next summer.


"SURP has given students hands-on research experience and many opportunities for personal, career and academic development," said Board of Regents President Gregory Gray. "The program will help our students be competitively positioned for health and life science careers in Connecticut."

The initiative enrolls both traditional and nontraditional students, but focuses on veterans and un/underemployed workers. This summer, 20 students ages 18-50, mostly from community colleges, participated in SURP. "This is a once in a lifetime experience. I'm so happy I took advantage of it," said Ze Bayati, a student from Gateway Community College. "By the end of the program, I found my passion for science.  Now I know that biology is the right career path for me."

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Participants took one of two tracks -- biosciences or physical health and epidemiology -- and conducted research alongside Eastern faculty from various health and science departments. "SURP has been designed to allow students to explore a variety of research areas within their track," said Polly Silva, Eastern's curriculum and program coordinator for the initiative. "In addition to being introduced to the topic, they learn how to formulate research questions and what the practical applications are for that field."
 
Research topics for biosciences included extraction of antimicrobial agents from plants; analyses of molecular stem and progenitor cells; and laser-scanning confocal microscopy. Topics for physical health and epidemiology included exercise testing protocols; the study and impact of nutrition and physical health on chronic disease; and the use of geographic information systems (GIS) to study the health of the community.

Research was conducted in Eastern's state-of-the-art Science Building. "I chose to participate in SURP because I wanted to learn how to use various types of lab equipment," said Precilia Dianzenza, a nursing student from Capital Community College, whose research focused on the antibacterial properties of the Black Iris flower.

SURP participants also took field trips to Connecticut Public Health Labs and the Hartford Hospital Simulation Lab. "My favorite experience was visiting the Simulation Center," said Tim Ziembiec, health and exercise science major from Manchester Community College. "We got to see and test out the same technology that doctors and nurses use -- I don't think I would have ever had an opportunity like that if it wasn't for SURP."

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Many students chose to live on Eastern's campus during the program. "In addition to benefiting from the research experience, community college students had the opportunity to experience what it is like to live in a dorm," said Mary Ann Affleck, dean of academic affairs at Capital Community College.
"Our hope is that this program will inspire students to pursue studies and careers in the health and life sciences field, and judging by their reactions, I think it has!" said Mara. "The access to equipment the students had and the quality and care of the faculty helped make SURP a great success."

The Connecticut Health and Life Sciences Career Initiative also aligns with Eastern's brand new Health Sciences major. Both of these programs are meant to address the rapid growth of the health and life sciences field over the coming years.

 

Eastern Graduates 1,227 at XL Center

Written by Ed Osborn

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Willimantic, Conn. - More than 12,000 family members and friends filled the XL Center in Hartford on Tuesday, May 13, to cheer on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,162 undergraduates and 65 graduate students received their diplomas at Eastern Connecticut State University's 124th Commencement exercises.

Nicholas Lawson, director of field human resources for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa during the Commencement Exercises, and offered remarks following presentation of his honorary degree.

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Lawson has worked with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) for the past 17 years, a group he proudly describes as the "preeminent emergency medical humanitarian organization in the world." As Director of Field Human Resources for MSF since 2007, Lawson is responsible for the oversight of 35,000 staff across the globe, and leads the development and implementation of MSF's vision as a member of the MSF Executive Management team. Over the years, he has traveled to and coordinated humanitarian and medical relief efforts in Uganda, Pakistan, Burundi, East Timor, South Sudan and Afghanistan.

Lawson spoke of the organization's core principles of service, independence, impartiality, neutrality, ethics and engagement, and described his early years with MSF, when he faced the challenge of bringing medical supplies to civilians in Afghanistan caught in the crossfire of that nation's civil war.  In the end, he said MSF's focus was simple: to "alleviate the suffering of vulnerable people in crisis."

His charge to Eastern's 2014 graduating class was equally simple:  "What place does service and engagement in the public realm have in the careers we dream for ourselves? Is that activism? Is it volunteerism? Is it civics? Will it be a lifelong professional choice? . . . You will be richer than you can possibly imagine if you do actually make that choice."

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                                             Eastern President Elsa Nunez

Other speakers at the Commencement Exercises included Eastern President Elsa Nunez; Catherine Smith, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, who represented the Board of Regents for Higher Education; Senior Class President Zachary Yeager; and Brittany Lane '14, who delivered the Senior Class Address. Other members of the platform party included Gregory Gray, president of the Board of Regents; Willimantic Mayor Ernie Eldridge; and other Eastern officials.

Nunez gave her traditional charge to the graduates, telling them, "I hope you look forward to the next chapter in your lives with optimism and expectation, knowing that the faculty and staff on our campus have done their utmost to prepare you for this day."
 
Nunez cited examples of applied learning experiences ranging from internships at ESPN and Cigna to study abroad trips to Costa Rica and Switzerland, to undergraduate research into genetics and emotional health among senior citizens, to working in South Carolina on anti-hunger efforts, as examples of the hands-on experiences that Eastern students receive in applying their liberal arts education.

 "Never be satisfied with a half-hearted effort, never assume that the way things have been done is the way we should do things in the future. Intellectual curiosity and a moral commitment to a better life for all people are hallmarks of a liberal arts university in our democracy. The best way to honor Eastern and our faculty is to remain true to what you have learned here."

 Nunez closed her remarks with a quote from the 19th-century Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda:  "Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life -- think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success."

More than 40 percent of the graduates were the first in their families to earn a bachelor's degree. As Connecticut's only public liberal arts university, Eastern draws students from 164 of the state's 169 towns. Approximately 90 percent of graduates stay in Connecticut to launch their careers, contribute to their communities and raise their families.

Senior Class President Zachary Yeager presented the Senior Class Gift to President Nunez--an annual Class of 2014 scholarship--and said, "College has been the time to make mistakes and learn from them, a time to challenge ourselves, and a time to step out of our comfort zone . . . We will carry the memories that we have made in the past few years at Eastern with us for a lifetime."

Catherine Smith, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, offered remarks on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education.  "I want you to know how deeply moved and excited we are about the great work you have done to earn your degree tonight," said Smith. "This is a significant milestone, and you should be very proud. The journey isn't easy, and there are no shortcuts to earning an undergraduate degree, but the benefits are enormous. Eastern has prepared you well for all the challenges you will face as the 21st century-economy continues to change. Pursue your career with the same dedication that has brought you to this fabulous day."
 
In her Senior Class Address, Brittany Lane urged the graduates to "pack your bags" and get ready for a new journey. She listed five items to include on the trip. First on the list: a belief that "every day is a great day to be alive," something she learned from one of her professors, Dan Switchenko. Second on her list was a commitment to helping others. "Volunteer; give back to your community; give back to your school. It is far more rewarding than a paycheck." 

  The third item on her list was to live life with kindness. "You never know the impact that your kind words could have on someone's day or even their life. Make your mark." Lane told her peers to also "remember to take the memories you have made at Eastern with you . . .  These are the moments that stand the test of time."

 Finally, Lane reminded her classmates that "there is no place like home. For your duration of time spent here at Eastern, it has become a second home . . . a close community of students from different walks of life coming together to live and learn in harmony . . . No matter where your journey takes you after today, no matter how many bumps in the road you may hit, always remember that we all have a place here at Eastern. You are all important. You will all accomplish incredible things; and our journey starts today." 
 
From the Governor's Foot Guard Color Guard in attendance, to the plaintive sound of the bagpipes of the St. Patrick's Pipe Band and the pre-event music of the Thread City Brass Quintet, this year's graduation ceremonies again reflected the University's Commencement traditions of dignity and grace. University Senate President Gregory Kane presided over the commencement exercises; seniors Emily Chuber, Rachel Jung and Emma Kuehnle sang "America the Beautiful"; Senior Mame Fatou Diop gave the invocation; and History Professor Anna Kirchmann was recognized as the 2014 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.

 

Eastern Freshman Wins Chemistry Award

Written by Michael Rouleau

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          Chemistry Professor Charles Wynn and Chemistry Award Winner Njeri Dodson

Willimantic, Conn. - Njeri Dodson, a freshman from Bridgeport majoring in biology, is Eastern Connecticut State University's 2014 CRC (Chemical Rubber Company) Press Chemistry Achievement Award winner. The award is given annually at more than 2,000 universities, colleges and high schools worldwide, and recognizes one student per institution for their outstanding academic achievement in chemistry.

 The award is given to young people embarking on a career in science, and is intended to inspire the upcoming scientists of tomorrow. Dodson was selected for having the highest total test score of all students taking general chemistry in the 2013-14 academic year at Eastern.

Dodson admits to not having a solid background in chemistry after leaving high school. "I feel surprised and proud to have received this award!" she said. "It never crossed my mind that I would achieve an honor this great just by trying to catch up to the rest."

Professor of Chemistry Charles Wynn, general chemistry coordinator at Eastern, made the determination and announced the award. Dodson also received a commemorative scroll and copy of the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics.


Dodson plans to enroll in medical school in preparation for a career as a physician. "I want to be a doctor--not sure which kind yet--but chemistry definitely fits into my career goals," concluded Dodson.

"ALANA" Students Recognized for Academic Excellence

Written by Michael Rouleau

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Recipients of the Diversity Scholars and Inclusive Excellence Awards. Back row, left to right, are Shaleah Richards, Gregory Riley, Njeri Dodson, Destiny Hartmann, Amilcah Gomes, Briana Tucker, Tyler Hernandez, Kayla Enwerem. Front row, left to right, are Jonathan Correa, James Chadic.


Willimantic, Conn. - The 2014 Inclusive Excellence Student Awards Ceremony was held May 2 at Eastern Connecticut State University. The event, sponsored by the Advising Center, celebrated the academic achievements of Eastern's "ALANA" students--African-American, Latino, Asian and Native American students. A total of 143 students were recognized.

            "Across the country, minority students are underrepresented on college campuses and graduate at lower rates," said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. "Here at Eastern we are committed to reversing that trend by fostering a community of inclusion, diversity awareness and academic excellence."

            The event's keynote speaker, Carmen Cid, a Latina from Cuba with nearly 30 years' experience as a college professor and administrator, and a distinguished scientist in the field of ecology, spoke on the topic of "finding your inner voice."

            "You have diverse backgrounds and broad educations; you can do more than one thing," said Cid, currently the interim president of Quinebaug Valley Community College and long-time dean of Eastern's School of Arts and Sciences. "Finding your inner voice takes time and practice." She also spoke of the benefits of diversity: "In ecology, the more diverse an ecosystem, the healthier it is. This is true for a college campus, too, and for society."

            Among the 143 students recognized were the Diversity Scholars Award recipients: Jonathan Correa, a sophomore biology major from Trumbull; Njeri Dodson, a freshman biology major from Bridgeport; Destiny Hartmann, a freshman accounting major from Stonington; Tyler Hernandez, a sophomore education major from Waterbury; Kayla Enwerem, a freshman from Waterbury; and Briana Tucker, a freshman social work major from Glastonbury.

Also notable were the recipients of the Inclusive Excellence Awards: James Chadic, a senior mathematics major from Norwich; Vanessa Cioe, a senior sports and leisure management major from Fall River, MA; Shaleah Richards, a senior psychology major from Hartford; and Gregory Riley, a junior biology major from West Haven.

Arts and Sciences Research Conference and Exhibition

Written by Michael Rouleau

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Willimantic, Conn. - Eastern Connecticut State University held its 14th Annual Arts and Sciences Research Conference and Exhibition (ASRCE) on April 12. The event featured oral and visual presentations of student-led scientific research and artwork. More than 50 presentations were delivered by students from a range of academic departments. 

 Mike Manzi, a junior majoring in environmental earth science (EES), presented on shoreline erosion due to weathering along Block Island. "I have enjoyed being a part of every step of the scientific process," said Manzi. "The best part is knowing that the information from my project can be used in the future by others doing research in this field."

 "Students studying environmental earth science have the opportunity to carry out exciting field-based research," said EES Professor William Cunningham. "Last summer undergraduates carried out original and important research in Idaho, Spain and various localities around southern New England. Their findings were presented at Saturday's event."

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At the ASRCE, Mathematics Professor Mizan Khan won the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Mentor Award. He was nominated by one of his students, Richard Magner, who has conducted extensive "number theory" research with Khan. 
 "Students who are interested doing research should ask a faculty member about opportunities in their area of interest," said Psychology Professor Madeleine Fugere. "I am always impressed by the quality of the research presented at this event."

Laura Markley, a junior majoring in EES, presented on population, natural resources and sea level rising in Bangladesh. "My research experience at Eastern has provided me with invaluable hands-on field experience," said Markley. "I'm lucky to be able to present on topics that interest me and address real-world problems."

"This event gives students the chance to experience the 'next step' in the research process: presentation," said Peter Bachiochi, psychology professor and faculty mentor. "It is very motivating for them."

"As a faculty mentor it is very rewarding to see your students present. It represents the culmination of a lot of hard work," said Fugere. "The ASRCE is one of the best academic events all year."

Eastern Hosts 2014 Research and Exhibition Conference

Written by Jordan Sakal


Willimantic, Conn. -  Eastern Connecticut State University will host its annual Arts and Sciences Research Conference & Exhibition on April 12 from 8:30 to 1:30 p.m. This annual event highlights student creative activity undertaken within the 11 departments and 13 majors in the School of Arts and Sciences.

 The conference is a forum for Arts & Sciences students to give oral and poster presentations of research they have conducted while at Eastern.  Students will also be reading poetry, discussing interpretations of literature, and displaying artwork. This exhibition will be the first ever to feature an award presented to faculty mentors for services to their student researchers.
 
 The award is student-nominated, and draws attention to the fact that Eastern students and faculty contribute to scholarly fields of inquiry beyond the classroom. The opening ceremonies of the conference will begin at 9 a.m. in room 104 of the Science Building. There will brief introductory remarks by Professor Nick Parsons, Dean Martin Levin of the School of Arts and Sciences, President Elsa Núñez and Provost Rhona Free.

Eastern Inducts New Class of Alumni Fellows

Written by Danielle Couture

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           left to right: William Kelly, Eastern President Elsa Nunez and Robert Hacker

Willimantic, Conn. - Eastern Connecticut State University inducted its sixth class of Alumni Fellows on March 26 in the Paul E. Johnson Community Room of the J. Eugene Smith Library.  Inductees included Robert Hacker '86, a dentist who runs a successful practice, and William Kelly '82, deputy director of securities lending for Bank New York Mellon.

 Hacker '86 earned his degree in biology at Eastern and went on to Tufts School of Dental Medicine where he earned his Doctor of Medical Dentistry Degree. Hacker practiced with other dentists for three years before buying a Branford practice from a retiring dentist. While running his own practice, he advanced his dental education at Americus Cosmetic Institute in New York City, which led to be one of the first practices in the area doing cosmetic dentistry.
  
 Hacker travels to Ecuador annually with his family to provide free dental work for poor children. He is also a member of the American Dental Association, the Connecticut State Dental Association and the Branford Chamber of Commerce. Kelly '82 double majored in Economics and Public Policy and Government at Eastern. Today he serves as deputy director of securities lending for Bank New York Mellon, a role in which he is responsible for more than $300 billion of business activity, and Global Head of Client Management, where he makes sure the bank's list of clients are satisfied with the services provided by the investment professionals he supervises. As part of his job, Kelly has traveled throughout the United States and to nearly 30 countries.

 Both Hacker and Kelly give credit to Eastern for getting them to where they are today. When Hacker went to graduate school at Tufts, he couldn't believe he was chosen to be in the same class as people from schools like Yale, Cornell and Harvard. "Seeing all these Ivy League schools and competitive universities made me nervous about who I was up against," he said, "but I quickly realized that Eastern had prepared me well. I had a solid knowledge of basic sciences and the team of teachers I had not only got me into one of the top dental schools, but allowed me to compete with other students from universities around the country and the world."

 Hacker talked about how having a liberal arts education contributed to the success of his career. He had to take a psychology class as part of the core curriculum, which helped him relate to his patients later on. "I would recommend taking the opportunity to get a well-rounded education and be creative when picking your classes, because you never know where skills from those classes will be needed later in your life," said Hacker.
 
 Kelly says he gained crucial skills from Eastern that helped land him his first job in the field. "I was chosen for a leadership position because of my ability to communicate effectively and my ability to demonstrate leadership experience that I learned from my foundation at Eastern," said Kelly.  He also explained how one opportunity in his work led to many more opportunities and experiences. He advised students to keep in touch with their networks whether it be through Eastern or through professional ranks. "Become associated, become active within your particular field and have that desire to reach out beyond your comfort zone," said Kelly. "It's easy to get settled in, but the opportunities that are afforded to us as young professionals are limitless."

The Eastern Fellows program was established in the 2008-09 academic year to recognize and engage distinguished Eastern alumni in the life of the University.  This program is a means of enriching the educational experience of current Eastern undergraduates by exposing them to alumni who are able to share their work experiences with students in realistic terms. The program is an exciting and stimulating way for our students and faculty to benefit from the knowledge of accomplished professionals.

Chief Justice Rogers and Judge Kahn to Speak at Eastern

Written by Michael Rouleau

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Willimantic, Conn. - Two high-level Connecticut court officials will speak at Eastern Connecticut State University on March 26 for Eastern's University Hour series. At 3 p.m. in the Student Center Theatre, Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers and Superior Court Judge Maria Kahn will speak with the Eastern community about justice and the judicial system in today's world. 

Born and raised in Angola, Africa, Kahn was appointed a Superior Court Judge in 2006 and currently is assigned to hear criminal matters in the Fairfield Judicial District Courthouse. She moved to the United States at 10 years of age, is fluent in three languages and serves on a number state and national Bars. 

Rogers, a Connecticut native, was sworn in as Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court in 2007--the second woman ever to reach this designation in Connecticut. She was also appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the State Justice Institute's Board of Directors. In addition to serving on a number of prestigious Bars and committees, Rogers is also an adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law.

"The event is open to the public and will be organized in a question-and-answer format," said Starsheemar Byrum, coordinator of the Women's Center. "Arrive early at the Student Center Theatre to ensure a good seat."

"Eastern in 4," Eastern's Revamped Academic Plan

Written by Michael Rouleau


Willimantic, Conn. - As part of Eastern Connecticut State University's 2013-18 Strategic Plan, "Eastern in 4" is now a requirement for current students and incoming freshmen. The goal of "Eastern in 4" is to lay out a tight and comprehensive plan--including academic and career goals--that will lead students to their bachelor's degrees in four years.

"Eastern in 4" has existed as an informal objective for several years now, but recent data supporting the need for college-career planning has caused the University to revamp and mandate the program. "There are so many options and requirements in a college setting," said Alison Garewski, a professional advisor with the Advising Center. "Students unknowingly taking courses they don't need--costing them more money and prolonging their time in college--is an issue nationwide."

With nearly 1,000 freshman at Eastern this year, approximately 650 have completed their academic plans. Though the plans are designed in group sessions of five to 20 students, each four-year plan is individualized according to a student's degree requirements and preferences--taking into consideration which liberal arts courses to take, internships and study abroad opportunities.

"Every semester when registering for classes I use my four-year plan to aid in my selection," said Christina Harmon, a sophomore majoring in psychology. "'Eastern in 4' was a great way for me to learn what classes I need to take and how to stay on track in order to graduate on time."

While "Eastern in 4" is available to all students and majors, it is especially useful to transfer students, continuing education students and those switching majors. "This program is ideal at Eastern because we're a liberal arts school," said Chris Drewry, a professional advisor with the Advising Center. "Students are required and encouraged to take courses outside of their major, so having this direction is really helpful."

"Before making my 'Eastern in 4' plan, I had no idea if I could fit a double major's worth of classes into my schedule," said Thomas Hacker, a freshman with a double major. "Now I have a roadmap to double major in music and communication in four years."

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