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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.

 

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.

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."

EES Defeats Political Science in College Bowl Competition

Written by Dwight Bachman


On March 12, the Eastern College Bowl completed its 37th consecutive season.  Held in the Student Center Theatre, the College Bowl is a competition for undergraduates representing various majors.

The championship match saw the lead exchanged several times, a match that was not decided until the final question. The team representing the Environmental Earth Science (EES) Department defeated the team from the Political Science Department. EES had won matches against Economics and Mathematics to reach the finals, while Political Science had won its previous matches over Biochemistry and Biology. The winning EES team included students Dustin Munson, Cody Lorentson, Daniel Grondin, and Mackensie Fannon. 

College Bowl questions asked come from many different academic and non-academic areas, often involving audio or visual clues. Questions in this year's championship match included ones involving Dante's "Inferno," Julius Caesar and his crossing the Rubicon, phobias, songs from Disney movies and one titled, "The Doors of Eastern," in which contestants were asked to identify buildings on campus after seeing photographs of their front doors.  The question that decided the winner of the 2014 College Bowl  involved the naming of Transuranium elements. 

The College Bowl is organized and run by Tim Swanson, associate professor of physical science, who originated the competition in 1978.  This year, he was assisted by Biology Professor Gloria Colurso and Marty Levin, interim dean of the School of Arts and Sciences.

Board of Regents President Gray Visits Eastern's Campus

Written by Dwight Bachman

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Willimantic, Conn -- Eastern President Elsa Núñez, along with more than 100 students, faculty and staff, greeted Connecticut State Universities and Colleges (ConnSCU) Board of Regents President  Gregory Gray to campus on Sept. 18. The new president of Connecticut's Board of Regents for Higher Educatonis in the midst of touring the 17 schools that make up the state's public higher education system. Gray took over as president on July . He oversees the Board of Regents, which governs 12 community colleges, four state universities, and Charter Oak College,  the state's on-line institution.

Nunez praised Gray for his vision; his goal of restoring integrity to the system and for finding opportunities for more collaboration between community colleges and the four-year universities.

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Gray, noting that Eastern students were already fortunate to have a beautiful, physical setting, said, "Pristine is all around you here. Knowing that you were so dedicated to having such a beautiful campus tells me this same dedication must be taking place in the classroom as well."  He said his primary goal is to improve the learning environment on campuses, "making it go from very good to great."

Gray said he believes that by working together with faculty members who have a deep-rooted passion for excellence, ConnSCU will become a world-class system of higher education. To achieve this long-range goal, Gray wants to (1) restore trust and integrity to the system; (2) make the system more efficient and productive; (3) develop a plan to benefit current and future students.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we have to get it right. I want to develop a plan that will positively impact student 25 years from now." He said online education courses; a unified calendar for all system colleges and universities; and seamless transfer of credits will better serve students. "Saving money is important, but that is not the primary goal. We want to provide access and focus on what we should focus on a student's purpose for being here, which is to learn.  We then, want tell the world about it."

Gray said he wants board meetings to focus on student presentations about their achievements, and to see more scholarship celebrated on campus through academic fairs showcasing faculty books and student-published articles. He believes his plan will identify areas of efficiency, producing a more clearly-defined niche for each university.

During a question and answer period, Gray told students who want to be assured their voices are heard to "speak up, but get your facts straight. I assure you I will do all I can to support the integration of teaching, learning and service to our students. I say let's improve the overall efficiency of the system; improve the learning environment; give the governor and the legislature a good plan; and get it funded."

 

Eastern Named Among 2013-14 Public Colleges of Distinction

Written by Dwight Bachman


Willimantic, Conn: Eastern Connecticut State University has been included in the latest edition of the "Public Colleges of Distinction" guidebook.  Eastern is the only public college from Connecticut listed in the guidebook.  The guide says the colleges and universities listed excel in four distinctions --Engaged Students, Great Teaching, Vibrant Communities and Successful Outcomes.

"Engaged students" learn the skills they need to succeed in life -- the ability to think flexibly and address problems hands-on -- not just being able to memorize facts and follow orders. Instead, Eastern students learn to communicate, think critically, and solve problems as they explore the world through study abroad, internships, community service projects and undergraduate research.

"Great teaching" occurs in an atmosphere where feedback and encouragement are the norm. Faculty interaction is crucial to learning. "Colleges of distinction" encourage an atmosphere of exciting thought and action, led by professors who care about helping students learn to think for themselves. Academic innovation goes hand-in-hand with personalized learning.

"Vibrant communities" are campus communities that offer activities and events that help students learn even after the books are closed, creating social opportunities for students to develop friendships, and providing students a wide range of intellectually, thought-provoking speakers, seminars, unique films and artistic events.

"Successful outcomes" describes schools that produce students who can think, write, speak and reason, get a job, and most importantly, are also good citizens who can work together with diverse groups of people.
Colleges of Distinction are considered "hidden gems" of higher education, according to the panel of academicians, guidance counselors and parents that made the selection, officials said.  

The guidebook describes a College of Distinction as being:
 
• nationally recognized by education professionals and honored for the excellence of its programs;
• strongly focused on teaching undergraduates, where students are taught by real professors, not by graduate students or teaching assistants, in vibrant classrooms where the faculty keep their students challenged and interested;
• home to a wide variety of innovative learning experiences, from study abroad and scientific research to service learning and internships;
• an active campus with many opportunities for personal development. Whatever their passion, students find plenty of encouragement to help them pursue it; and
• highly valued by graduate schools and employers for its outstanding preparation.

The Public Colleges of Distinction are currently featured on the newly redesigned Colleges of Distinction website and will be featured in the Public Colleges of Distinction eGuidebook available this fall.

Eastern Named a "2013 Great College to Work For"

Written by Christopher J. Herman

 

Willimantic, Conn. - For the fifth year in a row, Eastern Connecticut State University has been named as one of the best colleges in the nation to work for, according to a new survey by The Chronicle of Higher Education. The results, released yesterday in The Chronicle's sixth annual report on The Academic Workplace, are based on a survey of more than 45,000 employees at 300 colleges and universities.
        In all, only 97 institutions achieved "Great College to Work For" recognition for specific best practices and policies. Eastern won honors in three categories this year: "Collaborative Governance;" "Compensation and Benefits;" "Facilities, Workspaces and Security."
  
Eastern was one of only three Connecticut institutions to make the list and the only public university among the three; Quinnipiac University and Middlesex Community College were the other two.

"We are honored to be included in 'Great Colleges to Work For'," said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. "Receiving this national recognition once again from the Chronicle of Higher Education is very gratifying, especially given our high ranking in three important areas of campus operations. The spirit of collaboration that exists on our campus is a strength that helps us better serve our students and the state of Connecticut." 
     The Chronicle is one of the nation's most important sources of news about colleges and universities. The survey results are based on a two-part assessment process: an institutional audit that captured demographics and workplace policies from each institution, and a survey administered to faculty, administrators and professional support staff. The primary factor in deciding whether an institution receives recognition is employee feedback.    

To administer the survey and analyze the results, The Chronicle worked with ModernThinkLLC, a strategic human capital consulting firm that has conducted numerous "Best Places to Work" programs, surveying hundreds of thousands of employees nationwide. Great Colleges to Work For is one of the largest and most respected workplace-recognition programs in the country.

For more information and to view all the results of the survey, visit The Chronicle's web site at Meet 2013's Great Colleges to Work For.

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