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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.

 

Hockey Club Picking Up Speed

Written by Michael Rouleau

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Willimantic, Conn. - In its fifth season, Eastern Connecticut State University's club hockey team is developing into a force to be reckoned with. This past season the team played in the Northeast Collegiate Hockey Association (NECHA)--a subset of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA)--and concluded the season with a 17-3 record, tying them for first place in the Colonial Conference of the NECHA.

 Five years ago, when the original group of students gathered to form the club, they played informal games according to an inconsistent schedule. One day the group came upon John Brancati when he was practicing with his son at Bolton Ice Palace. Soon after, Brancati--who has years of coaching experience with youth and high school teams--agreed to be the head coach of Eastern's club team.
 
 "There wasn't much of a team when I first joined. We had little talent and not much structure," said Sam Spellman '14, a team captain who has played right wing with the club for four years while majoring in accounting. "We probably didn't have 17 wins combined in my first three years. The program is making huge strides in being seen as a respectable team for competition."

 The ACHA is a collegiate hockey association with more than 400 teams nationwide--even schools with NCAA hockey programs have club teams in the ACHA. Because Eastern is still new to the association, the team underwent a "probationary period" this season and was not eligible to participate in playoffs or championship games--despite their conference-leading record.

 "We got lucky this year and picked up a lot of good players. Also, the guys who helped start the program have stayed loyal and kept on playing," said Jeremy Proto '14, a team captain who has played right wing with the club for four years while majoring in business administration. "We have a real solid group of guys who share one thing in common: a diehard passion for the game of hockey."

 The team has completed three preliminary seasons with the NECHA. These trial seasons are intended to test a prospective team's commitment to the league and gauge its playing style and sportsmanship. At the NECHA's spring meeting on April 19, the team will learn of their official placement in the Colonial Conference. In fact, since the team did so well, they may be moved to the American Conference, which is more competitive.
 
 "We hope to be placed in the American Conference, but we'll be happy with whatever the NECHA decides," said Assistant Coach Galen Byram, who has led the team's defensive strategy for four years. "We are very happy with how we've played and a bunch of guys at the association have been asking about Eastern."
 This year the team consisted of 23 players--all from Connecticut--six of whom will be graduating this May. "We're getting more exposure, more participation and more talent," said Coach Brancati. "The guys have been real committed. Our core will be returning next year; it's safe to say we'll have at least 20 guys to start off the season."

Since the team is not part of the NCAA or an official intercollegiate varsity sport at Eastern, team members must conduct fundraising efforts to afford ice time, transportation, referees and other expenses. For the 2013-14 season, they put together a team booklet that generated more than $2,000 by offering advertising space to local businesses.

Currently the team's home rink is in South Windsor, but they are working to relocate to Bolton Ice Palace. This location closer to campus would boost fan attendance and cut down on transportation costs.

 In order to play on Eastern's club team, there is a $500 yearly player's fee. Team jerseys are provided by Eastern, but players need their own gear. "Compared to other leagues, Eastern's club team is inexpensive and a great value," said Coach Brancati.

 "The best part about the game is it's unlike any other sport. There is a serious brotherhood among hockey players," said Proto. "It's one of the only sports that guys start playing when they're three and don't stop until they're 50. It's just that good."

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."

Majors Fair Helps Undeclared Students Choose Course of Study

Written by Michael Rouleau

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Willimantic, Conn. - Back by student demand, the Majors Fair occurred on March 13 in the Betty R. Tipton Room in Eastern Connecticut State University's Student Center. The Majors Fair, intended to help students with undeclared majors pinpoint a course of study, brought together faculty from all academic departments in one room for students to speak with.

 The Student Government Association (SGA), in collaboration with the Advising Services Center, organized and promoted the event, which hosted more than 20 informational tables staffed by faculty and served roughly 60 undeclared students.

"I'm leaning towards a major either in women's studies or social work," said undeclared freshman Kayla Enwerem. "I want to work with people, and the subject matter of these majors is real eye-opening to me."

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 Last semester the SGA conducted a survey that showed that undeclared students felt "ignored." This response encouraged SGA Student Issues Committee Chair Emily McDonald, a senior majoring in psychology, to reinstate the event--which had not taken place for several years due to lack of interest. "I switched majors earlier in my college career," said McDonald, "so I can relate to the struggle of an undeclared major not knowing what to study or where to go."

 "Business administration is my number one prospect," said undeclared freshman Alex Obernier. "I came to the Majors Fair to learn about different minors and concentrations. I'm considering minoring in marketing. Next semester I'll declare."

The Majors Fair was also promoted at local high schools for incoming Eastern freshmen. "I like the early childhood education major," said incoming freshman Amber Dupont, a senior at Windham High School. "In school I've done a couple of 'observations' and I find the work interesting, and I just really like working with little kids."

"I think I'll go with either education or business administration," said undeclared freshman Rebecca Pilney. "I came to a liberal arts school so I could test the waters and try a bit of everything."

"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's Delaney Wins Highest Student Activities Honor

Written by Michael Rouleau


Willimantic, Conn. - Michelle Delaney, director of Student Activities at Eastern Connecticut State University, received the National Association for Campus Activities' (NACA) "Founders Award" recently at the association's national convention in Boston.

The Founders Award -- NACA's highest honor -- is presented to individuals who have contributed significantly to the association's mission to provide NACA member institutions with innovative practices that support campus engagement. Delaney was this year's sole recipient.

"Eastern is fortunate to have Michelle Delaney amongst its community," said Vice President for Student Affairs Kenneth Bedini. "A national leader in campus activities, she has brought to our campus a vision and experiences that have advanced our program in many ways."

One of Delaney's most notable accomplishments is the founding of the Ross/Fahey Golf Tournament, which is NACA's premier fundraising event in the Northeast. Over the past 15 years, the tournament has raised more than $100,000 for scholarships that are awarded to students and new professionals in the Northeast.

"I was so surprised and thrilled to be selected by NACA for the Founders Award," said Delaney. "It's an honor to now be in the company of colleagues that I have admired for many years."

The Founders Award is presented to individuals who have given continued and outstanding service to NACA, have exemplified standards of professional integrity, have achieved stature in their professional or academic pursuits, hold the esteem of colleagues and peers, and have worked to further programming in the field of campus activities.

"Michelle Delaney has volunteered with NACA over many years and in many roles," said NACA Board Chair Matt Morrin. "She is a strong leader and a well-respected student affairs professional. Many in her field and on her campus have cited examples of her work at Eastern, which has enriched student life, supported staff in their professional development and made a difference in students' lives."

Leadership Program, "Tracks to Teamwork," Begins

Written by Michael Rouleau


Willimantic, Conn. - Eastern Connecticut State University's Office of Student Activities held the first session of "Tracks to Teamwork," a series of group leadership development workshops, on Jan. 27. The program will cover four different topics from January to April--one topic presented twice per month. January's topic is titled "Conducting a Successful Program," and was presented again on Jan. 29 at 3 p.m. at the Student Center Theatre.

"What we wanted to do with this series was branch out and go beyond clubs and organizations," said Christopher Ambrosio, assistant to the director of the Office of Student Activities. "The series is open to all who may find themselves in a leadership role, whether in the classroom, clubs or athletics."

"I've been dealing with campus clubs and organizations for a couple of years now," said Ambrosio. "I've noticed a lot of people run into the same problems when it comes to conducting events and programs." In Ambrosio's experience, when student leaders visit his office for advice, they often mention a disconnect between the planning of a given event and the reality of that event.

When planning a program or event, Ambrosio suggested defining the mission and goals first. He also emphasized creating an atmosphere for each event. Is it inviting? Is there music? How is the lighting? Is the area clearly labeled as the site of the event? Thirdly, he discussed "understanding the situation," noting what is and is not working. The session concluded with suggestions for promotion and online resources for planning and running programs, such as reserving meeting space through the Registrar's webpage, using the copy center for free printing, and posting events on Eastern's official event calendar.

The next topics for "Tracks to Teamwork" are "All Aboard: A Guide to Recruitment and Retention" on Feb. 10 and 12, "Get Your Finances on Track" on March 24 and 26, and "Executive Board Training" on April 14 and 16. For more information, visit the Office of Student Activities' website.

Eastern's Day of Giving

Written by Christopher J. Herman

 

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 Willimantic, Conn. - On Nov. 27, Eastern Connecticut State University will host its seventh annual "Day of Giving Community Celebration," a Thanksgiving dinner for community members who are patrons of local soup kitchens and other social service agencies. 

The event takes place from noon-2 p.m. in Hurley Hall on the Eastern campus.  Eastern served more than 450 meals at last year's event. Parking will be available at Eastern's two parking garages.
  

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The coordinators have enlisted campus-wide support from Eastern's administration, resident assistants from the Office of Housing and Residential Life, student clubs and organizations, and Chartwells Dining Services.  The local community has embraced the event by encouraging residents to attend and support food drives.
 
The project consists of two parts. The first is a large-scale food drive that takes place in the local community as well as on the Eastern campus. Local stores and businesses that have supported the food drive include Willimantic Food Co-op, Canterbury Better Value, Colchester's Noel Supermarket and Willimantic Stop and Shop.

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Donations are distributed to area food pantries including the Covenant Soup Kitchen and the Catholic Charities Willimantic Office. So far the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) has collected 766 non-perishable food items and raised $495.

The second part of the Day of Giving is a full-course Thanksgiving meal complete with all the trimmings for members of the Willimantic/Windham community who may otherwise not have a Thanksgiving dinner. Vendors who supply Chartwells Dining Services will donate the food, and staff volunteers prepare and serve the meal.  Eastern students, faculty, administration and alumni will volunteer at the event.

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"Eastern's Day of Giving is a special event because it is student-driven," said Max Goto, volunteer and event coordinator for CCE. "It would not be possible without the help of several key professionals and crucial departments here at Eastern, such as the CCE under Director Kimberly Silcox; overwhelming support from the University; and especially the ECSU Foundation, Inc., without which this event would not be possible."

Walk for Crohn's and Colitis Disease

Written by Christopher J. Herman

 Willimantic, Conn. - FEMALES (Females Excelling Maturing to Achieve Leadership, Excellence and Success), a women's leadership club at Eastern Connecticut State University, will host its fifth annual "Take Steps for Crohn's and Colitis" walk from 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. on Oct. 6 at the Mansfield Athletic Complex.

The cost is $3 for students, $5 for adults and $25 for a group (no less than 15 people and no more than 25 people in a group). Proceeds will benefit the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA).

Crohn's Disease is a chronic disorder that causes inflammation of the digestive or gastrointestinal tract. Ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition that mainly affects the colon. Both diseases belong to a larger illness called inflammatory bowel disease. The two diseases are extremely difficult to distinguish due to their similar symptoms. According to CCFA, approximately 10 percent of colitis cases are unable to be pinpointed as either ulcerative (chronic) colitis or Crohn's disease, and are called indeterminate colitis. Currently there is no cure for Crohn's disease and colitis, but available treatment options can make life easier for those affected by the disease.           
For more information, e-mail females@my.easternct.edu.

Eastern Presents "We Are Blended"

Written by Christopher J. Herman

Willimantic, Conn. - Eastern Connecticut State University's Campus Activity Board (CAB), the Intercultural Center, the Office of Housing and Residential Life and the Women's Center recently co-sponsored "We Are Blended," a social change initiative that encourages immigrants and U.S.-born residents to reach out to each other. The Eastern departments worked with the Chinese and American Cultural and Assistance Corporation and Adam Bowles, the owner of Not With Ink, a Connecticut-based multimedia company that raises awareness of select topics on a project-by-project basis. The two organizations have sponsored and showcased the program across Connecticut.

 "My vision and passion is to spread the message of 'speak kindly' and 'take notice' to as many communities and schools as possible," said Bowles. "This message is found in the book of Ruth in the Bible. I want to challenge people to "speak kindly" to one another in order to put immigrants at ease and to "take notice" of immigrant students by recognizing them as more than just another face in the crowd. It's a small part to play in the spectrum of all things immigration. But it's the part I feel called to play."
 
The keynote speaker, Carlos Castro, founder of Todos Supermarket, talked to Eastern students about pursuing the dream of having a life of freedom and success. Today, Castro is a self-made immigrant millionaire who has been featured nationally, including in the Washington Post, for his amazing rise from cleaning toilets to owning a supermarket chain in Virginia. Castro talked about the importance of staying focused and determined. He lectured Eastern students on the importance of being kind and taking notice of each other as a community.

 Eastern has more than 50 international students from various countries including Senegal, Norway, Denmark, Turkey, China, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Pakistan. These students speak more than 40 languages, including French, Spanish, Swedish, Wolof, Urdu, Pidgin, Portuguese, Creole, Dutch, German, Italian, Hindi, Turkish, Japanese, Akan, Norwegian, Arabic and Farsi.

 For more information on upcoming events in the Intercultural and Women's Center, visit Cultural Celebrations or contact Starsheemar Byrum at byrums@easternct.edu.

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