Occum Hall wins Warrior Cup, Puentes al Futuro gets $4,500

Residents of Occum Hall with Rosie Hernandez, founder of Puentes al Futuro, and William Stover, director of Family and Community Partnerships (center, holding check)

Residents of Occum Hall with the Warrior Cup trophy, alongside Rosie Hernandez, founder of Puentes al Futuro, and William Stover, director of Family and Community Partnerships (center, holding check)

Written by Michael Rouleau

The Warrior Cup is an annual competition in which all 13 residence halls at Eastern Connecticut State University compete for the benefit of a local nonprofit organization or charity. Occum Hall was the 2016-17 winner of the cup, but the real winner is Puentes al Futuro (Bridges to the Future), a Windham Public Schools afterschool program, which received $4,500 from the year’s Warrior Cup activities.

Rosie Hernandez thanks Occum Hall residents for their fundraising efforts

Rosie Hernandez thanks Occum Hall residents for their support of Puentes al Futuro

Residence Halls earn points in the year-long competition through the academic achievement of their residents, as well as their participation in campus activities, fundraisers and community service events. Occum Hall, composed primarily of transfer students, finished the year with 492 points, followed by the freshman halls of Burr, Constitution and Mead. All fundraising activities among the 13 residence halls went to this year’s designated recipient, Puentes al Futuro.

“This money will help keep the program alive,” said Kim Silcox, director of Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement, which is an avid supporter of Puentes al Futuro. “Funding for afterschool programs is more uncertain now than ever.”

More than 250 Eastern students have volunteered 3,600 hours with the program since its inception six years ago. Through the program, local middle school children learn about their Hispanic heritage in a variety of cultural and academic enrichment activities. With its partnership with Eastern, children see a “bridge to the future” as they interact with college students, often times on the Eastern campus.

“This 4,500 will go to the kids; not to salaries, not to administrators,” assured Rosie Hernandez, founder of Puentes al Futuro. “This really is an incredible amount of money that will go very far for the program.”

Former Washington Post Publisher Addresses Eastern Graduates

Written by Ed Osborn

                                                     Eastern Graduates 1,238 at XL Center

David Graham

David Graham

Hartford, CT — Former Washington Post Publisher Donald Graham told the graduates at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 127th Commencement exercises to “treasure this college. Eastern has given you a wonderful education . . . once you are making a living, give something back so that you can help Eastern continue to be great in the future.”

The annual graduation ceremony was held at the XL Center in Hartford on May 17, with more than 12,000 family members and friends cheering on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,180 undergraduates and 58 graduate students received their diplomas.

Graham also told the graduates, “Throughout our history, American leaders have stood up in times of peril — during the American Revolution, during the Civil War, confronting Hitler, standing up to Communism, and advancing civil and women’s rights.  At some time in your life, you will be asked to stand up for what is right, and I know you will answer the call.” Noting that the American political system has worked very well for more than 200 years, Graham said, “Future politicians will say, ‘I will fight for you.’  That’s fine. But ask them, ‘What will you do when you are done fighting?’”

Commencement 2017 Crowd_7167The commencement speaker also received an honorary degree from Eastern in a special hooding ceremony during the graduation exercises. Graham is chairman of Graham Holdings Co., formerly the Washington Post Co. A graduate of Harvard College, he is a veteran of the Vietnam War, serving as an information specialist with the First Cavalry Division from 1967-68.  He later served as a patrolman on the Washington, D.C., police force before joining the staff at the Washington Post in 1971 as a reporter.  Graham assumed the position of publisher of the Washington Post in 1979, following in the footsteps of his mother, Katherine Graham, who led the newspaper following her husband Philip Graham’s passing in 1963. In 1991, Donald Graham took over leadership as chief executive officer of the Washington Post Co.

Commencement 2017 Nunez and BabyIn 2013, Graham and his wife, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Amanda Bennett, joined Carlos Gutierrez, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, and Henry R. Munoz III, chairman of Munoz & Company, to co-found TheDream.US, a national scholarship fund that helps undocumented immigrant youth get access to a college education. Since its founding, TheDream.US has raised $91 million in scholarship funds, providing financial support to 1,700 college students nationwide. Graham also co-founded and served as chairman of the District of Columbia College Access Program; he remains a member of the board.  The program has helped double the number of District of Columbia public high school students going on to college and has helped triple the number graduating from college.

Commencement 2017 Nunez Shakes HandOther speakers at the Commencement Exercises included Eastern President Elsa Nunez; Matt Fleury, chair of the Board of Regents for Higher Education; Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and University System; and Senior Class President Abigail Caselli, who delivered the Senior Class Address. Other members of the platform party included Willimantic Mayor Ernie Eldridge; Justin Murphy ’98, president of the ECSU Foundation; Ellen Lang ’81, president of the ECSU Alumni Association; Father Larry LaPointe; and other Eastern officials.

Commencement 2017 BEST BalloonNunez told the graduates she was confident they would impact the world in three ways,  first as professionals in the workforce, equipped with “. . . a highly desired set of skills” sought by the majority of American employers — “analytical thinking, teamwork and communication skills, the broad intellectual and social competencies available through a liberal arts education.” Nunez also urged the graduates to give back to their communities, quoting Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman, who once said, “Service is the rent we pay for being. It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time.”

Waving BESTLastly, Nunez encouraged the Eastern seniors to “. . . exercise your duties and rights as American citizens. Our nation remains a beacon of freedom and a guiding light for other nations to follow, not because of our military might or our economic power, but because of the political, religious and personal freedoms we enjoy.”

Commencement 2017 Four LadiesNoting those freedoms must be protected, Eastern’s president went on to say, “Being a citizen of this great nation is clearly an investment of time, but it is the only way we can protect the freedoms we hold dear. Never abdicate your responsibilities as a citizen to someone else.  Be willing to question the status quo.  And stand up for the values you believe in.”

Commencement 2017 FamiliesMore 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 163 of the state’s 169 towns. Approximately 85 percent of graduates stay in Connecticut to launch their careers, contribute to their communities and raise their families.

Commencement 2017 Student PresidentSenior Class President Abigail Caselli presented the Senior Class Gift to President Nunez — an annual Class of 2017 scholarship — and thanked her classmates’ families, friends and faculty for supporting the senior class in its journey. “To a room filled with the next great doctors, nurses, actors and actresses, genetic counselors, presidents of universities, human resource managers and professors, just to name a few of the success stories to be written about my fellow graduates, I encourage you to use the opportunities that Eastern has given you and make the world around you better.  As someone once said, ‘Service is the highest form of leadership.’ May each of you find and share that leadership within you.”

Matt Fleury, president and CEO of the Connecticut Science Center, spoke on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education. “Today is a significant milestone for you,” he said. “We are proud of your accomplishments and applaud the many sacrifices you have made to get here. Your journey to this point was not easy, but for that reason, it is so much more satisfying. Whatever path you have chosen, you can make a difference.”Commencement 2017 SelfiesMark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System, also spoke to the graduates. “You have come a very long way since the first day you arrived at Eastern,” said Ojakian. “Life will take you in many different directions after you leave here tonight. The road in front of you is undefined. But I am hopeful that our state and our nation will be in a better place — as you become your future.”Commencement 2017 Christina

Commencement 2017 Foot GuardFrom 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 Eastern’s Commencement traditions.

Commencemetn 2017 SingersUniversity Senate President Maryanne Clifford presided over the commencement exercises; seniors Abigail Perreira and Kristin Uschkureit sang “America the Beautiful”; Senior Leigha Grushkin gave the invocation; and Environmental Earth Science Professor Peter Drzewiecki was recognized as the 2017 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.

Tip-A-Cop 2017 Raises $3,000

Police officers and Amici Grill staff

Police officers and Amici Grill staff

Police officers from Eastern Connecticut State University and the City of Middletown traded in their uniforms for aprons on May 3 to ‘serve’ the community in a different way. The officers spent the day waiting tables at Amici Italian Grill in Middletown in support of the fourth annual Tip-A-Cop fundraiser.

Approximately $3,000 was raised for the Connecticut Special Olympics. Contributing to the total, Amici donated 10 percent of its sales for the day, the cop-turned-servers donated all tips, and members of the Eastern community ordered $500 worth of food —delivered for lunch to their desks in Willimantic by Eastern volunteers.

Sgt. Lisa Hamilton of the Eastern police department and Angelo Simoni

Sgt. Lisa Hamilton of the Eastern police department and Angelo Simoni

“The Special Olympics is the designated charity of law enforcement in Connecticut,” explained Angelo Simoni, Tip-A-Cop coordinator and director of Eastern’s Office of Student Conduct. According to Simoni, Tip-A-Cop has raised approximately $15,000 for the Connecticut charity in four years.

The Eastern Police Department supports community charities throughout the year. It participates in Jail-N-Bail, a fundraiser in which officers ‘arrest’ members of the campus community who are then ‘bailed’ out of a fake jail, with all proceeds going to the Connecticut Special Olympics. Eastern police also participate in the Law Enforcement Torch Run, which kicks off the Connecticut Special Olympics games — coming up this June at Southern Connecticut State University.

Eastern Presents Inclusive Excellence Awards to ALANA Students

Written by Dwight Bachman

Inclusive Excellence Award winners with keynote speaker Natasha Stephens

Inclusive Excellence Award winners with keynote speaker Natasha Stephens

 Eastern Connecticut State University recognized the academic achievements of African, Latino, Asian and Native American (ALANA) students on May 5 during its Fifth Annual Inclusive Excellence Awards ceremony. Nine awards were given and 165 students were recognized for achieving GPAs of 3.5 or higher.

Eastern presented Melat Assefa and Christina Perez the Advisor’s Choice Award; Deja Seawright the Inspirational Leadership Award; and Chisolm Sunny Uduputa the International Student Award. The Resilient Warrior Award to AnnRichelle Akko, Daniel Costillo, Adrian Lopez Diaz and Yineira Lopez. Taylor Hemphill was named recipient of the Social Justice Advocacy Award, and the Volunteer Service Award went to Destiny Hartmann.

Eastern President Elsa Núñez

Eastern President Elsa Núñez

Eastern President Elsa Núñez told those in attendance that the awards ceremony was not just about inclusion. “It also speaks to Eastern’s other core values of academic excellence, integrity, Social Responsibility, Engagement, and Empowerment. Today, we show respect and celebrate the accomplishments of students who too often have been forgotten in the past.  We are very proud of you! We are doing everything we can to promote the success of students of color. We know that having an inclusive, diverse, and culturally rich campus is good for all our students — in the end, we all must learn to live together in today’s global society.”

Natasha Stephens

Natasha Stephens

Alumna Natasha Stephens, who graduated from Eastern in 2003 and is the Title IX Coordinator at Wichita State University in Kansas, delivered the keynote address. She told the honorees she was honored to come back to campus. “While you have breath in your body, thank those who helped you, took time to meet with you, who gave you an opportunity and took a chance on you.  Never forget your roots and where you came from — no matter how high you go in life, give back of your time to someone else.”

She concluded by telling students that they can always change their plans. “Don’t limit yourself or your abilities — challenge yourself to new things. Believe in yourself, and give someone the wings to fly.”

Award-Winning Author ‘Speaks’ at Eastern

 Written by Michael Rouleau

 Laurie Halse Anderson

Laurie Halse Anderson

New York Times-bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson visited Eastern on April 27 and April 28 for a Q&A and book signing, as well as to speak with students in two English classes. Anderson is the author of highly acclaimed young adult books, known for tackling tough subjects.

Published almost 20 years ago, her book “Speak,” a National Book Award Finalist, shares the story of Melinda Sordino, who was raped at an end-of-the-summer party and is trying to move on with her life. “I was the victim of sexual violence when I was 13 years old,” said Anderson, who said she wrote the book as a way to process her own experience. She also wrote it during the time when her daughter was becoming a teenager, when Anderson was daunted by her evolving role as a mother.

“I write books about things people struggled to talk about,” said Anderson. Speaking to the variety of books she’s written and their span of subject matter. She added, “One of the things I love about children’s literature is that there’s more room to play.” She commented that readers are often surprised that she is the writer. “That’s good; it means the focus is on the books, not the author.”

The Q&A was moderated by Education Professor Susannah Richards; Anderson’s visit was sponsored by Eastern’s Education and English departments, the J. Eugene Smith Library and the Sexual Assault & Interpersonal Violence Response Team. The event was organized in part to help Eastern students celebrate #ReadingWithOutWalls Month, a nationwide campaign program celebrating reading and diversity.

Eastern Students Rank Nationally at Association of Information Technology Professionals Conference

Written by Anne Pappalardo

Eastern student participants in the 2017 Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP) National Collegiate Conference

Eastern student participants in the 2017 Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP) National Collegiate Conference

WILLIMANTIC, CT (05/10/2017) A team of Eastern Connecticut State University students recently won fourth place at the 2017 Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP) National Collegiate Conference which was held in St. Louis, MO.

The team placed in the top five in the “Database-Driven Web Site Competition,” having competed against 72 other teams from around the country. The Eastern team created a web site for Grow Windham, a nonprofit agency in the Willimantic area that teaches nutrition and gardening skills to K-12 youth. The functionality of the web site will help Grow Windham to operate more efficiently and effectively in completing day-to-day tasks in a timely manner. It will also assist the organization in vital tasks such as obtaining federal grants and community outreach.

The Eastern team is composed of students from the Business Information Systems, Business Administration and Computer Science programs, all of whom are motivated to utilize and expand their biz-tech skills by helping local nonprofits serve the eastern Connecticut area.The students included students Sean Doherty ’18 of Trumbull, Lorenzo Stellato ’17 of New Milford, Joshua DeSouza ’17 of Gales Ferry, Chandler Ford ’18 of Glastonbury and Adam Pszczolkowski ’17 of Cape Coral, FL.

Along with competing in the database web site competition, the Eastern students also competed in the Office Solutions, Network Design, PC Troubleshooting, Java Developer and Database Design categories.

“Our students would like to thank Cigna for being a corporate sponsor for the second year in a row. They would also like to thank the ECSU Foundation, the Office of Student Activities, the Center for Community Engagement and Jacob Easley, dean of the School of Education and Professional Studies, for their support,” said Business Information Professor Alex Citurs.

Eastern’s AITP chapter has placed in the top 10 nationally in this competition eight times, taking first place in 2010 and third place in 2015.

Jazz Icon Spyro Gyra to Perform at Eastern

Written by Ed Osborn

                                                          Concert to Benefit Local Scholarships

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/27/2017) Legendary jazz quintet

Spyro Gyra

Spyro Gyra

will perform at Eastern Connecticut State University on May 20 in Eastern’s Fine Arts Center. The show opens at 8 p.m. and is the fourth and last in this year’s “Jazzin’ It Up at Eastern” concert series at Eastern.

From their humble beginnings in Buffalo, NY, Spyro Gyra have earned an international audience over their 40-year career, selling more than 10 million albums and playing more than 5,000 shows on five continents in that time.

During their 40th anniversary year in 2014, Spyro Gyra showcased their breakthrough album “Morning Dance” from 1979. In June 2016, they released “The Best of The Heads Up Years,” a compilation of tunes from 2001-09. In addition to the classic “Morning Dance,” other notable Spyro Gyra tunes include “Havana Moonlight,” “Shaker Song” and “Catching the Sun.” A live performance of “Morning Dance” can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVDZ5UY_oDw

“My hope is that our music has the same effect on the audience that it does on me,” says group leader Jay Beckenstein. “I’ve always felt that music, and particularly instrumental music, has this non-literal quality that lets people travel to a place where there are no words. Whether it’s touching their emotions or connecting them to something that reminds them of something much bigger than themselves, there’s this beauty in music that’s not connected to sentences. It’s very transportive. I would hope that when people hear our music or come to see us, they’re able to share that with us.”

Seating is limited, so attendees should purchase their seats now. Advance ticket purchasers are eligible to win a concert poster or Spyro Gyra CD – autographed by the band. For tickets for Spyro Gyra’s May 20 performance, visit https://easternct.showare.com, call (860) 465-4979, or email concerts@easternct.edu.

Sponsored by local philanthropist David Foster, “Jazzin’ it Up at Eastern” has also featured Foster and the Mohegan Sun All-Stars; Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and renowned jazz guitarist Pat Metheny. All proceeds support scholarships for Windham High School graduates attending Eastern.

Eastern to Host First Ever Astronomy Day

Written by Christina Rossomando


WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/26/2017) Russell Sampson, co-director of Eastern Connecticut State University’s Wickware planetarium, will host “Astronomy Day,” on May 5 from 7:30-10 p.m. Sampson teamed up with three of his current interns to put together this event. “This is a small event to celebrate astronomy,” said Sampson. Astronomy Day was proposed about 20 years ago and happens two times a year. This is our first time doing something like this at Eastern.”

The event consists of four star shows in the campus planetarium led by each of the interns. Guests will also have a chance to view Jupiter through several telescopes and view a “pretty picture” show in Goddard.

Students, faculty, staff and community members are welcome to come. The event is free of charge although star shows are first come, first served.

Fun Mud Day Returns to Eastern

Written by Ed Osborn

Mud Day 1WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/26/2017) The preschool children of Eastern Connecticut State University’s Child and Family Development Resource Center will participate in the Second Annual Fun Mud Day on May 8 from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Eastern students majoring in physical education will be offering support and motivation to the children throughout the day.

The event consists of a challenge course that is filled with obstacles children do not usually encounter during a typical physical education class. The event is not a race, but an opportunity to work together as a team, so that all participants complete the course and have fun. Fun Mud Day will take place outside in the playground area and include mud, sprinklers, slippery slopes, leaves, ice and other elements of nature designed to challenge children and make them dirty and wet. The event will take place rain or shine.

Mud Day 2Parents and guardians are invited to attend as well to enjoy the activity with their child. They may participate as spectators and take pictures or choose to participate as a Mud Partner alongside their child. You may even see a few physical education majors completing the course as well.

Spectators are welcome and encouraged to attend. Eastern campus community members who are active or retired members of the U.S. military are especially invited, as this event is our preschool version of the “Tough Mudder” obstacle course events. “Tough Mudder” supports the “Wounded Warrior Project,” whose mission is to honor and empower wounded veterans. All visitors should enter through the main CFDRC entrance and sign in at the reception desk.

For more information, contact Darren Robert, robertd@easternct.edu, or Niloufar Rezai at rezain@easternct.edu


Eastern Presents Cesar Chavez Distinguished Service Awards

Written by Dwight Bachman

Left to right, Sierra Colon, Carlos Hernandez and Gloria Bent

Left to right, Sierra Colon, Carlos Hernandez and Gloria Bent

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/24/2017) Willimantic, CT- Sierra Colon, a political science major from Wethersfield, CT, and president of the Organization of Latin American Students at Eastern Connecticut State University; Carlos Hernandez, a member of the maintenance staff at Eastern; and Gloria Bent, past president of the League of Women Voters of Connecticut, have been named recipients of Eastern’s 2017 Cesar Chavez Distinguished Service Award.

The awards, presented on April 19 in the Student Center Theatre, recognize individuals who best exemplify the teachings of Chavez, the late labor leader and human rights activist who advocated for fairness, equity and justice for farm workers. The awards also recognize individuals who have performed extraordinary service in support of the Latin-American community by either developing or contributing to programs or activities that focus on positive development of minority youth and/or foster minority educational opportunities and advancement.

“I think Cesar Chavez would look at our three award recipients and see three people who focus their time on

Eastern President Elsa Nunez

Eastern President Elsa Nunez

meeting the needs of others,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “Sierra Colon, Carlos Hernandez and Gloria Bent have demonstrated exemplary leadership in service to the Latin American community, the Eastern campus and the community-at-large. They remind us of our own responsibility to serve others, so that everyone may share in the American Dream.”

In addition to serving as president of OLAS, Colon ’17 has been a resident assistant and has also served as a student orientation counselor, peer mentor and tutor for elementary students in Willimantic. This past summer, she was awarded the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman scholarship from the U.S. State Department, which allowed her to complete a two-month internship in Cape Town, South Africa, where she worked on agriculture reform and social justice issues. Colon has also secured an internship with the Department of Environmental and Energy Projection. She has advocated for affordable tuition at meetings hosted by state representatives. Graduating with honors, Colon plans to attend graduate school, focusing on higher education and policy reform.

Hernandez came to Eastern 31 years ago, while working part time at the post office. Over the years, he has supervised numerous students while serving as a mover, carpenter, painter and landscaper.

In Willimantic, Hernandez has visited halfway homes operated by Windham Area Interfaith Ministry) to donate clothes and talk with people transitioning from prison. He and his wife have served as foster parents for neglected children, and have adopted and raised five children.

Gloria Bent is a member of the board of directors of the League of Women Voters of Northeastern Connecticut, and the immediate past president of the League of Women Voters of Connecticut. She has been active in the league for 11 years, encouraging citizen participation in all levels of government through education and advocacy.

A resident of Mansfield for more than 40 years, Bent has served for four years on Mansfield Advocates for Children and two years on Mansfield’s Advisory Committee on the Needs of Persons with Disabilities. She earned a diploma in nursing from Saint Joseph Infirmary School of Nursing in Atlanta, GA, and a bachelor of arts from St. Joseph College in West Hartford, where she majored in religious studies and minored in women’s studies.