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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 Joins Initiative to Increase Latino Graduation Rates

Written by Ed Osborn

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Willimantic, Conn. -Elsa Núñez, president of Eastern Connecticut State University, is one of 17 college and university presidents across the nation and the only one in New England, to join "Presidents for Latino Student Success" (PLSS), a group of higher education leaders throughout the country who are committed to making America stronger by increasing degree attainment for Latino students and all students.

"I am proud to be part of this new initiative to increase the number of Latino students graduating from college," said Núñez.  "From my own personal experience and my professional observations during more than 40 years in higher education, a college degree can uniquely transform someone's life. Latino students have historically attended and graduated from college at lower rates than white and African Americans.  While there are a number of reasons for this disparity, only by bringing dedicated educational leaders together and actively implementing effective strategies will we be able to change this paradigm."

The PLSS initiative is being spearheaded by Excelencia in Education, which is marking its 10 years of service.  "Excelencia in Education has become an invaluable resource for higher education leaders who understand that the success of America's Latino students is critical to our nation's future," said Eloy Ortiz Oakley, president of Long Beach City College and an inaugural member of Presidents for Latino Student Success.

"Excelencia's analysis makes clear that for the United States to regain the top ranking in the world for college degree attainment, Latinos will need to earn 5.5 million more degrees by 2020," continued Oakley. "Every higher educational institution in America could benefit from Excelencia's research, evidence-based practices and proven ability to bring together key stakeholders to move our nation toward that goal."

"We are gratified this distinguished group of higher education leaders have committed to building the national momentum to achieve our collective goal of making this country stronger with the talents, skills and contributions of greater numbers of Latino college graduates," said Sarita Brown, president of Excelencia in Education. "These leaders come from a diversity of institutions and locations yet share proven capacities to advance student success and the acumen to reach and serve Latino students."

In addition to Núñez and Oakley, the following college and university presidents have also joined Presidents for Latino Student Success: Ricardo Fernandez, CUNY-Lehman College; Mildred Garcia, California State University, Fullerton; Willie Hagan, California State University, Dominguez Hills; Ray Keck, Texas A&M International University; Flavius Killebrew, Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi;
Felix Matos Rodriguez, CUNY- Hostos Community College; Gail Mellow, CUNY-LaGuardia Community College; Tomas Morales, California State University, San Bernardino; Diana Natalicio, University of Texas at El Paso; Antonio Perez, CUNY- Borough of Manhattan Community College; Anne Prisco, Felician College, The Franciscan College of New Jersey; William Powers Jr., the University of Texas at Austin; Shirley Reed, South Texas College;Mark Rosenberg, Florida International University; and William Serrata, El Paso Community College.

 Excelencia in Education is a Washington, D.C.-based national nonprofit organization whose mission is to accelerate Latino student success in higher education. For more information, visit

Eastern Responds to Latest News on Climate Science

Written by Ed Osborn

               First Connecticut Institution to Join Alliance for Resilient Campuses

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Willimantic, Conn. - In response to the White House's release of the Third National Climate Assessment, Eastern Connecticut State University signed a commitment this week to prepare for the impact of climate change and increase the University's resilience.  Eastern's President Elsa Núñez became the first college president in Connecticut, and one of only 30 presidents nationwide, to become a signatory to the newly formed Alliance for Resilient Campuses. 

"The Alliance for Resilient Campuses will help Eastern and other colleges and universities assess our vulnerability to climate change, implement measures to increase our resiliency, prepare our students for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century, and share successful strategies for adapting to a changing climate," said President Núñez.
The Third National Climate Assessment is yet another sobering confirmation that climate change is impacting every region of the United States.  The Northeast, in particular, has experienced a 70 percent increase in precipitation during heavy storm events, the greatest increase in any region of the country.  More intense storm events, flooding, droughts, heat waves and rising sea levels are already presenting significant risks to public health, roads, bridges, airports, waste water treatment plants, food production, communications systems, power plants and energy distribution. 

In Connecticut, local communities, campuses and state government have been at the forefront in addressing climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  In 2007, Eastern pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050 by signing the American Colleges and University Presidents' Climate Commitment. 

The University has reduced emissions through energy retrofits, geothermal and solar energy, a fuel cell and the construction of "LEED" buildings (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a certification from the U.S. Green Building Council).
Extreme storms and power outages over the past few years in Connecticut have increased the attention being given to resiliency and the need to adapt to an already-changing climate.  By participating in the Alliance for Resilient Campuses, Eastern and other institutions around the country are dedicated to partnering with local communities to identify local risks and initiating steps to anticipate, avoid and manage disruptions.

The Alliance for Resilience Campuses was launched by Second Nature, a national nonprofit organization that works to create a healthy, just and sustainable society by transforming higher education.

Eastern Presents Cesar Chavez Distinguished Service Awards

Written by Dwight Bachman

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Left to right, Robinson Camacho, Kimberly Silcox, Todd Aviles and Eastern President Elsa Nunez

Willimantic, Conn. - Eastern Connecticut State University presented its Cesar Chavez Distinguished Service Awards on April 26 to Todd Aviles, a senior majoring in Sociology; Robinson Camacho, a family liaison working for Windham Public Schools; and Kimberly Armstrong Silcox, director of Eastern's Center for Community Engagement. The program recognizes members of the campus and local community whose actions demonstrate distinguished service in promoting educational opportunities and/or advancement for members of Latino groups and acts that represent a commitment to positive Latino youth development.

Aviles has been fully engaged at Eastern since he arrived on campus. He served as the president for the MALES organization for the past two years. A native of Hartford and a strong advocate who believes heavily in giving back to his community, Aviles currently works for the Center for Internships and Career Development as a peer counselor. He also worked in the Center for Community Engagement and the Office of Student Orientation. In his spare time, Aviles likes to read and write poetry.

In addition to serving as a family liaison for Windham Public School, Camacho is also coordinator for the high school Puentes al Futuro/Bridges to the Future after-school program.  The program meets twice a week at Windham High School and Eastern.

'I am Latino' is a series of classes that Camacho developed, which focuses on motivating, encouraging and opening the eyes of the youth through visual media and interactive lectures. The class is direct and to the point, and its purpose is to make young people think about where they are and where they are going. Young people hear about successful Latinos in history and today, as Camacho goes over statistics on Latino dropout rates, low college attendance rates and the importance of education, by telling his story about dropping out of college and then realizing he needed to finish his college education.
Silcox is director of Eastern's Center for Community Engagement, which opened in 2009. She serves on many nonprofit boards and committees and has received numerous awards for service to the community. She is an advocate for students, faculty and communities, working to build and facilitate meaningful partnerships in the Windham community.

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 to Present "An Evening with Chuck Klosterman"

Danielle Couture

Klosterman.jpgWillimantic, Conn. - Eastern Connecticut State University's Arts and Lecture Series will present author Chuck Klosterman at 7 p.m. on April 22 in the Betty R. Tipton Room, where he will discuss how pop culture shapes a person's identity.

Klosterman is the New York Times best-selling author of six books of nonfiction and essays, including "Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs" and "I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains," and two novels "Downtown Owl" and "The Visible Man," all of which focus on American popular culture. His debut book, "Fargo Rock City," was a winner of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award. He has written for GQ, Esquire, Spin, the Washington Post, the Guardian, the Believer and the A.V. Club. Klosterman currently covers sports and popular culture for ESPN and writes "The Ethicist" column for the New York Times Magazine.

In his fresh, candid observations and metaphoric illustrations, Klosterman astounds and informs his readers on a variety of topics--love, music, sports and others--within the broad context of American popular culture. In the process, he contemplates how popular culture can define individual and group identity, with the movies we watch, the music we listen to and the television shows we obsess over becoming the subscript of our lives.  Klosterman shows us how pop culture becomes inextricably linked with our memories, how it helps us understand the world, and what this says about us as individuals and as a society.

"An Evening with Cluck Klosterman" will include a question-and-answer session and a book signing following the lecture presentation.Tickets for Arts and Lecture Series events are $10 for the public. Reserve yours by calling (860) 465-0036 or e-mailing

Eastern Announces 2014 Commencement Speaker

Written by Ed Osborn

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Eastern Connecticut State University has announced that Nicholas Lawson, director of field human resources for Doctors without Borders/"Médecins sans Frontières" (MSF), will be  receiving an honorary degree from the University at its 124rd Commencement Exercises on May 13, 2014, at the XL Center in Hartford, CT.
Lawson began working for MSF in 1997 as a logistical and administrative expert in a project in southern Sudan during that country's brutal civil war. Since then he has held 11 other positions within the organization, which have taken him on humanitarian missions across the globe to Afghanistan, Burundi, East Timor, Pakistan, Kenya and elsewhere.

Last year in Uganda, Lawson coordinated MSF's response to the Kamango/Bundibugyo refugee crisis on the Uganda/Congo border. In 2011, he coordinated a similar mission to provide HIV-related hospital care to the population of the Chiradzulu district in Malawi. Over the years, Lawson has traveled to and coordinated humanitarian and medical relief efforts in a number of other countries in response to natural disasters, refugee situations, the AIDS pandemic and other health emergencies.

During his years with MSF, Lawson has risen through the organizational ranks from logistician to field coordinator, logistical coordinator and finally head of mission. Lawson's extensive field experience prepared him for the headquarter role of Recruitment Officer for Field Human Resources at MSF-Australia in Sydney. Today, he continues to use these skills to lead the New York-based human resources team that recruits and places U.S. medical and non-medical staff in MSF projects.
Prior to joining MSF in January 1997, Lawson worked in the finance, construction, education, and hospitality industries in Australia and other locales. He studied anthropology at the University of Western Australia.

Chief Justice Rogers and Judge Kahn to Speak at Eastern

Written by Michael Rouleau

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."

Football Star Maurice Clarett Speaks At Eastern

Written by Jordan Sakal

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Willimantic, Conn. - Arguably one of the greatest freshmen to ever play college football, visited Eastern Connecticut State University on Feb. 26 to speak to students about the rise and fall of his football career, and his life choices about drugs, alcohol and partying. Clarett's constant refrain,"Show me your friends and I'll show you your future," reminded students that friends can lead you to great things, or down the wrong path as was the case for Clarett.

 His story began with memories of his youth and incarceration for stealing vehicles and breaking and entering. After his third incarceration, he was taken under the wing of Roland Smith, a juvenile corrections officer who agreed to mentor Clarett and be the father the teen so desperately needed. From this positive reinforcement, Clarett became a football star, graduated early from high school, and attended college at Ohio State University. There he set rushing records as a freshman in addition to becoming the first freshman to start for the Buckeyes in 48 years. According to Clarett, things began to fall apart at Ohio State. He ran into his old friends from the street and began to make poor decisions, delving into the world of drinking, partying and crime. As a result, he was kicked off the football team in the summer of 2003.

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The loss of football led Clarett into a tailspin of depression. "I substituted drugs, women and the party lifestyle because I still craved the attention of the thousands of screaming fans that football provided me but that I no longer had access to." In 2005-06, Clarett was given a second chance when he was drafted by the Denver Broncos of the National Football League. Even that second chance could not help Clarett; the drugs, partying and depression continued. "Drugs had me so far in their control party all day, party all night and it destroyed me."

After his release by the Broncos, Clarett's life spun further out of control. On Aug. 9, 2006, he was arrested for weapons possession and speeding. He spent the next four years in jail, saying of the experience, "Prison can either humble you or turn you into an animal. I became a humble man."

Maurice Clarett's story is the inspirational tale of a meteoric rise to stardom and fame and a terrible crash back down to reality, with the message that even in the darkness of despair, one can still change one's life and grow. Maurice Clarett has done just that.

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