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Celebrating 125 Years of Service to the Community

Written by Ed Osborn

 

Eastern wrapped up its spring semester series of 125th Anniversary celebrations with Community Engagement Day on May 2. The day began with a luncheon and panel discussion featuring four alumni in the Paul E. Johnson Sr. Community Conference Room. Anabelitza Lozada '11, Levar Mitchell '12, Matt Blocker-Glynn '03 and Victoria Nimirowski '87 discussed how they turned their community engagement experiences at Eastern into successful careers. The event was sponsored by the Center for Community Engagement, the Center for Internships and Career Development, and the Office of Alumni Affairs.

Lozada graduated with a bachelor's degree in Social Work. The following year, she completed her master's degree at the University of Connecticut's School of Social Work. She currently is the social worker for the Support for Pregnant and Parenting Teens program at Windham High School. Mitchell earned his Bachelor of Science in Sport and Leisure Management with a minor in Sociology. He currently works as a sports, fitness and recreation director at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hartford, and is the youngest sports director in Connecticut. Mitchell is pursuing his master's degree in Social Work at the University of Connecticut.

Blocker-Glynn graduated with a B.A. in History. He received his M.Ed. in Human Relations Counseling from Plymouth State University, and then came back to Connecticut to direct the University of Hartford's Center for Community Service six years ago. Nimirowski has been the executive director of the Windham Area Interfaith Ministry (WAIM) since 2005.

In the afternoon, the CCE sponsored the annual Service Expo, during which time student volunteers displayed posters and other visual manifestations of the various service projects that have taken place during the 2013-14 academic year. The annual Distinguished Service Awards ceremony took place in the Student Center Theatre following the Service Expo.

Kimberly DePaolis, a junior double-majoring in early childhood education and psychology, won the Student Community Engagement Award for her leadership, fundraising and volunteer work locally and abroad--in such countries as Jamaica and Ecuador--earned her this award.

Professor of Anthropology Ricardo Perez earned the Faculty Community Engagement Award for working with Eastern students in service projects with Willimantic schools in the Puentes al Futuro (Bridges to the Future) program. The Community Partner Engagement Award was given to '09 alumnus Christopher Brechlin, who worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer with ACCESS Agency and is now the CEO of Blueprint for a Dream, a "social enterprise" that focuses on northeast Connecticut. Professor of Sociology Cara Bergstrom-Lynch won the Service Learning Award for her fundraising efforts and community organizing. Since 2007, more than 550 students in her senior seminar have organized more than 120 community projects. The Community Event Award was given to Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). From January to April of this year, the 10 students involved in the program put forth more than 456 hours of tax assistance, filing approximately 9,500 returns for low-to-moderate income individuals and families.

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In the evening, "La Familia de Mucho Colores," a community cultural celebration in the Betty R. Tipton Room, concluded Community Engagement Day. Arnaldo Rivera and his band Vente-Tú played Latin Jazz and Salsa; children from the Puentes al Futuro ("Bridges to the Future") program danced to Mexican polkas, a Puerto Rican bomba and other Latin American music. Dancers fom the El Sagrado Corazón Catholic Church also joined in the festivities.

History Majors Win Library Research Awards

Written by Michael Rouleau

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Willimantic, Conn. - The winners of the 2014 Library Research Awards at Eastern Connecticut State University have been announced. Emily Komornik, a sophomore from Shelton double-majoring in history and English, won the underclassman award for her research paper titled "Jonathan Edwards: Conversion through Fear." The upperclassman award was given to Shannon Williamson, a senior from Baltic majoring in history, for her research paper titled "Choosing an Ethnic Group to Target: The Case of the Jewish Minority in Interwar Poland."

Entries were judged by a panel of librarians and faculty. Evidence of research strategy, process, use of library resources and personal learning were taken into consideration. "If there are no deserving research projects in a given year, the awards may not be given," warned the panel prior to judging. In the end, the panel was impressed.

Komornik's paper, titled "Jonathan Edwards: Conversion through Fear," is about "The Great Awakening," a radical Christian movement of the 1700s. Led by Rev. Jonathan Edwards, The Great Awakening emerged to counter "The Enlightenment," a mindset focused on reason and logic rather than devotion to god.
 
The Great Awakening presented a radical change in preaching styles among New England ministers. In an effort to scare people into compliance or conversion, "Sermons became threatening and involved horrifying messages of eternal damnation for those who did not believe in the Christian God," Komornik wrote.

Williamson's paper, titled "Choosing an Ethnic Group to Target: The Case of the Jewish Minority in Interwar Poland," addresses why the Jews of Interwar Poland (early 1900s), a country full of ethnic minorities, were the most persecuted. "I was intrigued about why certain groups were targeted over other ethnic groups," Williamson said.

The 26-page paper delves into the numerous reasons why Jews were at odds with the Poles and other minority groups of Interwar Poland--Belarusians, Ukrainians and Germans. Among the reasons, Williamson suggests, were the Jews' lack of support from an established "mother country," their economic tendency to work in urban areas rather than live a peasant lifestyle, and their following of Judaism instead of Christianity.
 
Students were also judged on a reflection essay that went behind the scenes of their research. "Before this project, I had never utilized the J. Eugene Smith Library in such an extensive way," said Komornik. "Of course I've taken out books before, but never had I used the library's online databases, which enabled me to easily find enough resources for my research."

Williamson also spoke highly of the library. "The library was incredibly beneficial in my quest to create my research paper," she said. "In addition to using the databases, a trick I learned is to browse the bibliographies of effective books to find more related books."

Both research papers and reflection essays can be viewed at: http://easternct.libguides.com/content.php?pid=62741&sid=4892904

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.

commencement 2014-Lawson-IMG_7905.JPG                                       Commencement Speaker Nicholas Lawson
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.

 

UConn Professor to Speak at Eastern on Human Rights

Written by Ed Osborn


Willimantic, CT--Luis van Isschot will speak on human rights activism in Webb Hall 358 at Eastern Connecticut State University from 3-4 p.m. on Monday, April 21.
Van Isschot is assistant professor of history and human rights at the University of Connecticut. For more than a decade he worked internationally supporting human rights advocates in Latin America and elsewhere, mainly with the NGO Peace Brigades International.
 
Isschot's research seeks to explain the emergence of human rights as a new paradigm of social protest during the Cold War. In 2008 he was full-time coordinator of the "Life Stories of Montrealers Displaced by War, Genocide and Other Human Rights Violations" oral history project.
His current book project, "The Social Origins of Human Rights: Protesting Political Violence in Colombia's Oil Capital, 1919-2010," examines why, how and with what impact people living in conflict areas organize collectively to assert human rights.

Established by Standard Oil in 1919, the oil enclave of Barrancabermeja has long been a critical battleground in Colombia's armed conflict. Drawing on interviews, as well as social movement and legal archives, van Isschot situates the experiences of frontline activists within broader debates on the history of the international movement for human rights.

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."

Buddhist Monk Speaks at Eastern

Written by Michael Rouleau

 

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Willimantic, Conn. - Ajahn Boumlieng, a Buddhist monk of the Lao Lan Xang Temple in Willington, CT, spoke at the J. Eugene Smith Library at Eastern Connecticut State University on April 8. The event, titled "The Way of the Elders: Buddhism and the Lao Community in Connecticut," discussed Theravada Buddhism and Lao culture.
 Theravada directly translates to "the way of the elders," and is among the oldest and most traditional forms of Buddhism. It follows closely to the teachings of Buddha and focuses on meditation. "Meditation is the most important part of my culture," said Boumlieng. "Meditation can be active or still, but must focus on breath."

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 Boumlieng, a native of Laos, has traveled extensively amidst his spiritual journey, learning various Buddhist philosophies along the way. He became a monk 30 years ago at the age of 25, and spent approximately 10 years meditating in Laotian caves to learn his Buddhist routes --a common practice of monks from that area.
Since then he has lived in China, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and now the United States. He's been in the United States for about 10 years--Connecticut for six. Boumlieng's English is limited, but he speaks Thai, Lao, Vietnamese and French fluently.

Speaking of the goal of meditation, Boumlieng said, "The mind is like water; naturally clear, but able to be colored." The mind is colored by thoughts and emotions, which Boumlieng calls "monkey mind." Clarity is the state of mind hoped to be achieved through meditation.

In his culture, monks are highly revered and are not expected to work; they are totally supported by the community. Through enlightening themselves, the community benefits, as monks provide a service as teachers and counselors. In Laos, monks are not allowed to use technology, but because of the support they receive, there is no need for it. In Connecticut, however, Boumlieng must occasionally resort to cars and the Internet.

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.

History Honor Society Inducts New Members

Written by Jordan Sakal


Willimantic, Conn. - On April 7, 13 history majors and one member of the faculty at Eastern Connecticut State University were inducted into Alpha Mu Alpha, Eastern's chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, the national honor society for the study of history.

The society promotes the study of history through the encouragement of research, good teaching, publication, and the exchange of learning and ideas among historians. The society recognizes students who have completed a minimum of 12 semester hours (four courses) in history, have a minimum GPA of 3.1 in history, have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 and are in the top 35 percent of their class.

Inductees included Eastern professor Bradley Davis, and students Abby J. Arisco of Wallingford; John P. Allen of Tolland; Nicholas G. Cecere of Branchburg, NJ; Emily C. Dwelley of Stafford Springs; Joseph L. Garzone of Rocky Hill; Margaret Kurnyk of Willimantic; Kevin M. MacVane of Manchester; Meagan Rose McCane of Torrington; Brandon Thomas Nickle of Hampton; Michael A. O'Neill of Killingworth; Victoria L. Schell of Norwich; Erin Renee Strickland of Gales Ferry; and Shannon J. Williamson of Baltic, CT.

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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