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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.

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 Takes Two "Alternative Breaks" During Spring Recess

Written by Michael Rouleau

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Eastern students Lisa Forcellina (left) and Kim DePaolis (right) with Eastern's AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer Max Goto (center) working in raised garden beds at the Generous Gardens Project in Greenville, SC, for their week-long spring break in March.

Willimantic, Conn. - This past spring recess, Eastern Connecticut State University students participated in two "alternative break" trips. Both trips lasted a week in March; one group volunteered with the Generous Gardens Project in Greenville, SC, and the other volunteered in the Natchaug State Forest in Eastford, CT.

 Seven students worked with the Generous Gardens Project, a nonprofit organization that grows and distributes fresh produce to anti-hunger efforts in South Carolina. "Generous Gardens taught us so much about gardening, how to be 'green' and the importance of giving back," said Cassandra Marion, a senior majoring in visual arts. "The amount of work we were able to achieve made coming back every night exhausted totally worth it."

The group learned about sustainability and urban gardening while planting seeds, harvesting vegetables, composting, working on raised garden beds and other agricultural tasks.
 
"Generous Gardens helped to reignite my passion for helping people by expanding my repertoire of skills and offering me a novel vehicle for service," said Kimberly DePaolis, a junior double majoring in early childhood education and psychology. "Being completely submerged in a self-sustaining farm for the purpose of helping those in need of food was incredible."

"On Wednesday we had the day off and went for a hike on Paris Mountain, and later got to explore the town," said Lily Egan, a junior majoring in communication. "I wouldn't have traded our trip for anything. I needed an escape from regular life in Connecticut. The work was hard but also relaxing; a real stress reliever."


Another group of seven students took day trips from Eastern to Natchaug State Forest throughout the week, where they built bridges and did trail work with the Connecticut Forest and Park Association. "The labor was tough, but not as difficult as I was expecting. I especially liked working with the power tools when we were building the bridge," said Anastasia Matos, a sophomore majoring in business administration. "I was out of my element, but everyone was so kind and helpful; I felt a real connection with everyone."

The Natchaug State Forest group enjoyed a hike through the forest and an education on forestry and conservation. "This trip was fun and rewarding, and, like all alternative break trips, a great way to learn new things, meet people and lend a helping hand," said Kurt Stefanscyk, a junior majoring in environmental earth science. "It feels good to give back."

The purpose of "alternative breaks" is to provide the opportunity for students to serve outside of their own communities in a drug-and-alcohol free environment. For information about Eastern's upcoming alternative break trips, contact the Center for Community Engagement.

 

AmeriCorps Mayor's Day of Recognition for National Service

Written by Dwight Bachman


Willimantic, Conn: --On April 1, mayors across the United States will recognize AmeriCorps Mayor's Day of Recognition for National Service. The day salutes the contributions of AmeriCorps members to the nation.
 
In Connecticut, mayors from Bridgeport to Windham will participate and recognize the contribution of 5,800 active service members across the state. To celebrate AmeriCorps, Food Corps, Teach for America and other service corps in Windham, Mayor Ernie Eldridge will read an official town proclamation during a gardening service project at Natchaug Elementary School at 3:30 p.m. at 123 Jackson.  The event, sponsored by GROW Windham, runs to 5:45 p.m. The public is invited; admission is free.

Representatives from Eastern Connecticut State University, The Windham Area Hour Exchange, Eastern Area Health Education Center, Windham Public Schools and several other organizations in town with service corps members, will participate in the event. Current and former service corps members are encouraged to wear AmeriCorps apparel or bring AmeriCorps promotional materials.

 

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."

Eastern to Host Forum on CPTV Documentary on State's Prisons

Written by Dwight Bachman


Willimantic, Conn. -- The Center for Community Engagement at Eastern Connecticut State University is hosting a forum to view and discuss the Connecticut Public Television (CPTV) documentary, "The Color of Justice." The forum will be held on Feb. 26 from 6-8 p.m. in Room 110 of Webb Hall on the Eastern campus. The event, co-sponsored by the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, School-Based Arrest Reduction Collaborative; Windham Willimantic Local Interagency Services Team (LIST), and Eastern's Division of Student Affairs, is free and open to the public.

"Color of Justice" examines the role race plays in Connecticut's juvenile justice system. The state's own studies show that minority children enter the juvenile justice system at a higher rate than their white peers, and are treated more harshly there. Research shows that adult decisions, not the behavior of the children, accounts for these differences.

After producing the documentary, CPTV partnered with the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance to organize forums around the state to help communities more thoroughly examine the issue. The Alliance has spearheaded major juvenile justice reforms that have improved public safety, while reducing the number of youths sent to the state's most expensive juvenile justice programs.

The forum will focus on understanding the issue and on finding concrete ways that citizens can act to promote equality for all Connecticut youth. For more information about the forum, contact: Kimberly Silcox, Center for Community Engagement, Eastern Connecticut State University (860) 465-4426.

Plunge for Hunger 2014

Written by Michael Rouleau

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Willimantic, Conn. - On Feb. 1, students of Eastern Connecticut State University along with members of the local community jumped into the frigid waters of Lauter Park to raise money for the Covenant Soup Kitchen. Plunge for Hunger saw more than 200 participants and raised more than $5,000 for the soup kitchen, with donations are still being collected.

 More than 40 Eastern students attended the event, but only 15 or so took the plunge. "Luckily it was a nice day," said Max Goto, AmeriCorps VISTA with Eastern's Center for Community Engagement, remarking on the event's sunny, 40 degree weather. "I wasn't planning to plunge, but some friends convinced me, so I undressed and jumped in and immediately regretted it. But upon getting out, the crowd was warm spirited and welcoming."

 The Eastern crowd was chiefly represented by the baseball team, which raised more $900; the rugby team, which raised more than $2,200; and the Center for Community Engagement team, composed of Student Government Association (SGA) members and Resident Assistants. The ECSU Foundation also donated $1,500.
"Having helped promote the event, I would have felt like a hypocrite if I didn't jump in," said Meaghan McFall-Gorman, a freshman double majoring in English and political science. "It was a great experience, and rewarding to help the Covenant Soup Kitchen. I am dedicated to doing it again next year."

The Covenant Soup Kitchen in a fixture of the Willimantic community, providing invaluable food assistance to hundreds of individuals and families throughout the year.
 
"Usually when people tell you to jump in a lake, they are being rude," said Reuben Rivera, a freshman majoring in computer science. "Now, to me, 'go jump in a lake' means to do good. It means to try and make a difference. All in all, it was a good experience and I will be doing it next year."

Volunteers Needed for Special Olympics Swim Meet

Written by Michael Rouleau


Willimantic, Conn. - The 35th Annual Windham Invitational Special Olympics Swim Meet will be held Saturday, March 8 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Windham High School. Approximately 350 volunteers will be needed to continue to make this one of the largest and most successful Special Olympics swim meets in Connecticut.

            "Over 200 athletes with intellectual disabilities from Connecticut and Massachusetts are expected to register for the event," said Charles Wynn, 2014's meet director and professor of chemistry at Eastern Connecticut State University. In addition to the swimming competition, sports clinics, aerobics, and arts and crafts activities will be offered.

The greatest need is for one-to-one partners, who will make sure athletes get to their registered events, cheer them on, and get them involved in activities when they are not swimming. Volunteers are also needed in areas such as sports clinics, food service and water safety. 

All volunteers will be provided with lunch from McDonald's and a Windham Special Olympics t-shirt.  Volunteer registration forms can be downloaded after Jan. 6 at windhaminvitationalswimmeet.weebly.com.  This activity is approved for community service credit.

            Special Olympics is a year-round program of physical fitness, sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The program is unique in that it accommodates competition at all ability levels by assigning athletes to "competition divisions" based on both age and performance ability. According to a study by experts at Yale University, Special Olympics athletes perform better at school, at work and at home, the longer they participate in the program.

Eastern Students Volunteer at Martin Luther King Jr. Services

Written by Michael Rouleau

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Student Leaders Les Damour and Yollaine Kaja working with Eastern volunteers and North Windham Elementary students on the Hand Print for World Peace activity. In this activity, the students trace and cut out the shape of their hand, and inside of it write something they can do to help promote world peace.

Willimantic, Conn. - Eastern Connecticut State University students volunteered at elementary schools throughout the Windham area for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Jan. 14. The day of service, organized by Eastern's Center for Community Engagement, took place at Windham Center School, North Windham School, Sweeney School and the new STEM Academy.

Forty-five student volunteers split up among the four schools and led more than 100 children through diversity-themed activities. The program began with a brief presentation on the life of Martin Luther King Jr. Following was a reading of Dr. Suess' book "The Sneetches," which teaches that we can coexist peacefully despite our external differences. "MLK and Me" work packets were also filled out, which taught more about the life of Martin Luther King by having the children draw on similarities and relate to him. Concluding was an arts and crafts activity that involved brainstorming ways in which the world could live more peacefully.

"The program served its purpose in educating and raising awareness about Martin Luther King Jr. and his civil rights advocacy," said Maxwell Goto, a volunteer coordinator with Eastern's Center for Community Engagement.

 

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