New Communication Building Meets the Present, Greets the Future

The north entrance of the Communication Building now features more interior space and an abundance of windows.

Written by Michael Rouleau

The biggest change to the Eastern Connecticut State University campus this fall is the opening of the newly renovated Communication Building. For the past 14 months, the building remained shuttered while under construction, but reopened in August with a modernized design and a number of improvements to efficiency and technology.

Originally constructed in the early 1970s, the building’s extensive renovations include new state-of-the-art facilities for television production, sound recording, audio production and video editing.

“It is as important to refresh our existing facilities as it is to build new ones,” remarked Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “In using such state-of-the-art technology, students in our Communication and New Media Studies majors can better prepare for careers in the media world of the 21st century.”

All of the classrooms have been upgraded with new equipment; the television studio and radio station are now revamped; and three new computer labs were constructed.

“These new media production spaces provide unique opportunities for communication majors to practice and hone the skills that they learn in class,” said Communication Professor Andrew Utterback, who added, “The faculty are thrilled to be teaching in such a modern, up-to-date space.”

Professor Edmond Chibeau teaches in one of the building’s updated, tiered classrooms.

The classrooms follow Eastern’s standards for smart-classroom design, with increased square-foot-per-student ratios that allow for better accessibility and provide ample space for collaboration between students and faculty.

“The physical environment has a powerful effect on students’ ability to learn,” said Communication Professor Edmond Chibeau. “This new building is an example of Eastern’s dedication to giving students an ergonomically designed state-of-the-art learning environment.”

Subtler improvements to the Communication Building include efficiencies in sustainability. The renovations follow high-performance (green) building standards set by the State of Connecticut. Such standards include utilizing recyclable materials for a portion of the construction, as well as materials sourced within 500 miles of the worksite. Improvements have also been made to water conservation, energy conservation and insulation.

“We meet these high-performance standards and now have a building that is significantly more efficient than the previous building,” said Renee Keech, director of Facilities Management and Planning.

Building renovations also took into consideration occupants’ mental health by adding more windows, which admit higher levels of daylight and offer more views. Communication Professor Terri Toles-Patkin agreed: “Students and faculty are getting a morale boost just from being in this new space.”

The foyer of the building features a lounge, study space and new meeting room.

One of the Communication Building’s most distinct changes is a glass-encased façade on the north end. This ground-level area was once an outdoor concrete tunnel, but now is a vibrant foyer furnished with contemporary furniture.

In addition to the foyer, Keech added, “This gave us space to prominently place the radio station and provide a multipurpose room that can be used by the communication department and the university.”

“This was a much needed facelift, and one that goes beyond its impressive appearance,” concluded Toles-Patkin. “This is a building designed not only to meet the needs of the present but to anticipate the changes of the future.”

Eastern Faculty on Display at Semester’s First Art Exhibition

“Portrait of Jacqueline” 2015, pastel on sanded pastel paper, by Terry Lennox

Written by Jordan Corey

WILLIMANTIC, CT (09/13/2018) The first exhibition of the fall semester at Eastern Connecticut State University features the creations of nine faculty artists who specialize in digital art and printmaking. On display in the Art Gallery of the Fine Arts Instructional Center, the exhibition is open to the public until Oct. 11.

The gallery teemed during the exhibition’s opening reception on Sept. 6, as guests admired works ranging from Tibetan landscapes to cartoony laser beams and mingled with the creators.

Among the artists at the opening was Digital Art and Design Professor Terry Lennox, who produced “Portrait of Jacqueline,” an image of a woman donned in red that hangs gracefully in a back room of the gallery.

Lennox revealed that she started drawing portraits at a young age, and noticed early on that her artwork was very realistic. “I thought, ‘Maybe I have something there,'” she said. “That made me feel good.”

On a recent sabbatical, Lennox studied Renaissance women in Washington, D.C., and Florence, Italy. “My husband’s side of the family is from Italy,” explained Lennox. The woman in the portrait is her sister-in-law. “She’s the only person in the family who wears nice jewelry,” she joked.

While it took Lennox’s subject a while to get relaxed, she noted that digital photography makes the process easier than it has been in the past. Rather than working off an in-person pose, Lennox’s piece was based on a photograph that she and Jacqueline selected together. A combination of pastels and paint was used to produce it, as it is more difficult to get sharp edges with pastels.

 “Kapok-the Tree between Land and Sky 1 & 2” 2017, digital mixed media, by Tao Chen

Another digital art and design professor, Tao Chen, spoke about producing a collaborative multimedia project. “Kapok – The Tree between Land and Sky 1 & 2” is on display next to a single-channel video titled “Iroko: Tree of Life.” The project also utilized the research and artistic efforts of Professor Emeritus Imna Arroyo and Professor Jaime Gómez, along with choreography by Professor Alycia Bright-Holland.

The “Iroko: Tree of Life” video production begins with a dance between the Orisha – the human form of a spirit – of the river Ochun Kole, and Iroko, the Orisha who embodies the tree of life for the Yoruba people. Some believe that, together, they have saved the world on multiple occasions. Visuals were recorded or acquired by the producers in Colombia, Puerto Rico and Taiwan, and studio video recording was done at Eastern.

The idea of a “tree of life” has long been prevalent in mythologies throughout the world. Generally, the tree is viewed as a sacred entity that holds value in both its physical and spiritual properties. “The pieces I created are based on the research,” Chen explained. “It’s a culture initially from Africa.”

Chen’s pieces, which heavily incorporate earth tones, convey the importance of the tree in addition to the overall smallness of man. “I think a lot of people feel the energy from the tree,” he said. “We’re all so tiny.”

“Forgotten Prophets of Tibet 2 & 3” 2018, digital print on canvas, by Lora Li

Faculty-artist Lora Li also called on the integration of the mythical and historical for her project, “Forgotten Prophets of Tibet.” For this digital-art trilogy, she spent a minimum of two weeks on each print – they are a blend of her imagination and her interpretation of Tibetan culture. “They all have realistic elements.”

One of Li’s prints depicts a traditional healer, a scene that touches on shamanism. Ancient Tibetan shamanism and animism, the pre-Buddhist spiritual and religious culture of Tibet, was known as Bon. The reformed Bon offers a monastic system, philosophic colleges and a scholastic tradition fully comparable to that found in the other schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

“Everything has a soul,” said Li. “They have the ability to summon nature and enter the spiritual world.” She went on to point out this consideration laced within her pieces, with emphasis on natural elements like fire and wind, prayer flags and the use of water animals, often called “the lucky symbols.”

On the integration of Buddhism with traditional Tibetan culture, something that played a large part in this project, Li commented, “I think it’s inevitable. Whenever you see something new it has to blend with what we already know for us to accept it.”

Li was “inspired by colors” and “really fixated on details” during the creative process. “I trained in traditional art in China for 10 years before I came here,” she explained. “I wanted to integrate all my skills.” She plans to add more pieces to the series in the future.

The diverse art exhibition also features the work of June Bisantz, Nancy Friese, Ed Hogan, James Holland, Simonette Quamina and Jane Rainwater.

Gallery hours are Tuesday and Wednesday 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday 1-7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 2-5 p.m. All events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit or call (860) 465-4659.

Eastern Alumna to Volunteer in China with Global Autism Project

Brielle Heinl, left

WILLIMANTIC, CT (09/10/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University alumna Brielle Heinl ’13 has been selected to participate in a Global Autism Project in China in July 2019. One of only four people selected from hundreds of applicants, Heinl is currently working on her master’s degree in Psychology and Applied Behavior Analysis from Capella University.

The Global Autism Project’s mission is to support individuals with autism to reach their full potential, no matter where they live. China currently does not have a method for preliminary autism screening and effective intervention measures. There is also a shortage of teachers and clinicians, leading to a lack of services for children with autism.

Heinl will be volunteering at Huicong School in Nanchang, China, for two weeks in July 2019. Huicong provides 1:1 services for children with autism in a classroom setting and currently serves 128 students. “Huicong was founded by a mother of a child with autism,” explained Heinl. “The mother continues to be a passionate advocate for children with autism throughout Nanchang and all of China, where there is an urgent need for increased awareness of autism and access to services.”

Heinl’s career goal is to become a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) and serve children with autism in a school system. She has been working in the field since graduating from Eastern, while earning her master’s degree and logging the required supervision hours to sit for the BCBA exam. She will be completing her degree in March 2019.

“Attending Eastern shaped who I am and how I work with individuals with autism,” said Heinl. “Classes at Eastern are where my love for psychology and ABA began. Thanks to an exceptional Psychology Department, I was able to hold two amazing internships within the field of psychology. My professors supported my passion in the field and helped me gain as much experience as possible.”

Heinl must raise funds to support her trip and seeks to raise at least $5,000. To contact her, visit or email Heinl’s fundraising page can be found at The Global Autism Project website is at

Written by Ed Osborn

Eastern to hold Book Launch for Sociology Professor Dennis Canterbury

WILLIMANTIC, CT (09/06/2018) A book launch for Eastern Connecticut State University Professor Dennis Canterbury’s latest book, “Neoextractivism and Capitalist Development,” will occur on Sept. 12 from 3-4 p.m. in room 301 of the Science Building.

A Q&A session will follow the launch. The event is free and open to the public; light refreshments will be served.

Canterbury is a sociology professor who specializes in labor, development, globalization and Caribbean social structure. The term “neoextractivism” refers to the collection of state-private sector policies intended to utilize income from natural resource sales for development objectives and improving the lives of a country’s citizens.

“Neoextractivism and Capitalist Development” argues that neoextractivism is merely another means of capitalist development, reinforcing the position of elites with few benefits for working people. His book aims to help readers critically analyze neoextractivism and identify alternative paths for improving the human condition.

Written by Jordan Corey

Eastern to host Annual Dance Awareness Day

Modern Movement, a dance club at Eastern Connecticut State University, will host its second annual Dance Awareness Day on Sept. 8 from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Fine Arts Instructional Center (FAIC). A number of dance classes will be offered in a variety of styles and levels.

Registration is from 8:30–9:30 a.m. Classes are $5 each for non-Eastern students. Eastern students get one class free (with Eastern ID); additional classes are $5 each. Classes will occur in rooms 117, 215 and 219 of the FAIC.

Classes are led by Modern Movement members, Eastern alumni and faculty members in Eastern’s Dance and World Performance concentration. Multiple classes will occur simultaneously during certain timeslots.

The schedule is as follows: 9:30-10:30 a.m. yoga/Pilates; 10:30-noon beginner ballet, intermediate/advanced contemporary-modern dance or intermediate/advanced Afro-modern dance; 1-2:30 p.m. intermediate/advanced lyrical dance, intermediate/advanced hip-hop or musical theatre; 2:30-4 p.m. West African dance and drum or beginner tap dance.

Modern Movement is Eastern’s pre-professional dance company. Although there is a focus on modern dance, Modern Movement creates and performs choreography in a wide variety of dance styles. Money raised at Dance Awareness Day supports Eastern’s Dance and World Performance concentration.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern’s Okon Hwang Performs at Carnegie Hall

Eastern Connecticut State University Music Professor Okon Hwang performed at Carnegie Hall this past June with the S.O.Y. Piano Trio. The trio’s debut performance at the famed venue was in celebration of their first-place performance at the 2018 American Protégé International Competition. The trio competed in the College Students and Professional Musicians category for the Piano and Strings Competition.

Consisting of Seulye Park (violin), Okon Hwang (piano) and Yun-Yang Lin (cello), the S.O.Y. Piano Trio is a chamber ensemble based in the United States and South Korea. Since its formation in 2015, the trio has blended master works with newer works in experimental multi-media settings. As part of their 2018-19 season, the trio is invited to perform at the Sejong Cultural Center, one of the most prestigious performance venues in South Korea.

CPTV and Eastern to Host Advance Screening of ‘Native America’ Episode

• Eastern’s Sarah Baires (left) and Melissa Baltus, professor at the University of Toledo, are experts on the ancient Native American city Cahokia.

Eastern Connecticut State University and Connecticut Public Television (CPTV) will host a free advance screening of an episode from the new PBS series “Native America” on Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. in Eastern’s Student Center Theatre. The four-part series will premiere on CPTV on Oct. 23.

The third episode of the series, “Cities of the Sky,” will be shown at the screening, followed by a Q&A session with series producer Gary Glassman and director Joe Sousa. “Cities of the Sky” explores the cosmological secrets behind America’s ancient cities, and features Eastern Anthropology Professor Sarah Baires. Baires will lead the Q&A discussion.

“Native America” was made with the active participation of Native American communities in some of the most spectacular locations in the hemisphere, and illuminates the splendor of a past whose story has remained untold for too long.

“We are excited to partner with Eastern Connecticut State University to offer this screening and discussion of ‘Native America,'” said Carol Sisco, vice president and station manager for programming and acquisitions at CPTV. “‘Native America’ not only spotlights the history of America’s first peoples, it also explores Native American cultures, communities and traditions still thriving today. We hope that many of our Connecticut neighbors can join us at Eastern for the special advance peek before the series’ CPTV premiere!”

“We are very proud of Dr. Baires for her thought-provoking research on Cahokia, the ancient Native American city in what is now southern Illinois,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “It is commendable that Sarah is part of the PBS ‘Native America’ series, and we are delighted that we can host this special preview on our campus. Having the series’ producer and director on site for the event is a special honor.”

The screening is free and open to the public; advance registration is not required.

“Native America” will premiere on CPTV on Tuesday, Oct. 23 at 9 p.m. Subsequent episodes will air Tuesday, Oct. 30 at 9 p.m., and Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Willimantic NAACP Presents President’s Award to Stacey Close

Willimantic/Windham NAACP President Leah Ralls, right, presents Stacey Close, associate vice president of equity and diversity at Eastern, the NAACP’s first ever President’s Award.

Written by Dwight Bachman

The Windham/Willimantic Branch of the NAACP recently presented Stacey Cloe, associate vice president of equity and diversity, its first ever President’s Award.

The award ceremony took place during the NAACP’s First Annual Freedom Fund dinner, held at the Windham Club in North Windham, Connecticut. The award is given “to an individual whose outstanding participation and contributions provide essential support to the Windham\Willimantic Branch’s growth and success.”

NAACP President Leah Ralls remembered how warm Close was, where he lent a helping hand to the Willimantic branch of the NAACP during a campus meeting between herself and Eastern President Elsa Núñez.

Close later introduced Ralls to Ms. Morgane Russell, president of Eastern’s Black Student Union, who was instrumental in assisting the branch with bringing the “Community Conversation on Race” to campus last fall. Ralls said Close has been a mentor to her and her organization on how to build the local branch and find and use resources. She expressed great satisfaction in every discussion she has had with Close, describing them all “inspiring, educating and up lifting.”

Before assuming his current position at Eastern, Close served as Professor of History for more than two decades, and, in 1998, the Hartford Courant named him one of “Connecticut’s Hottest Professors.” He has served as keynote speaker at numerous events, written several chapters in books, and has a forthcoming coming book on Blacks in Hartford, culminating more than a decade of research.

Faculty Exhibition Opens Eastern’s Fall Art Gallery Season

Eastern Connecticut State University’s Art Gallery will host its first exhibition of the fall 2018 semester from Aug. 30 to Oct. 11. The exhibition will feature nine Eastern faculty artists who specialize in printmaking and digital art. An opening reception will take place on Sept. 6 from 4-6 p.m. in the gallery, located in room 112 in the Fine Arts Instructional Center.

The faculty exhibition will feature the work of June Bisantz (digital art), Tao Chen (digital art), Nancy Friese (printmaking), Ed Hogan (digital art), James Holland (digital art), Terry Lennox (digital art), Lora Li (digital art), Simonett Quamina (printmaking) and Jane Rainwater (digital art).

Gallery hours are Tuesday and Wednesday 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday 1-7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 2-5 p.m. All events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit or call (860) 465-4659.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern’s Tropical Biology Field Course Reaches Milestone

50 Years of Students becoming Scientists

A group of Eastern students crosses a suspension bridge into the Costa Rican jungle at dusk.

The sun was setting on Costa Rica. The air was thick with humidity and adrenaline. The rain was coming down, and Nicholas Kukla, a biology student at Eastern Connecticut State University, was about to step foot on a narrow suspension bridge.

Roughly 30 meters off the ground and 100 meters away from their destination, this was the moment that Kukla and his group had been waiting for. They were venturing from the comfort of their lodge into the deepness of the rainforest for the first and only night-hike of their field trip in the Central American country.

“Once we got into the rainforest, the first thing I noticed were the sounds,” recalled Kukla. “A rush of sounds from different directions had my head swiveling. I wanted to know what each twig snap and leaf rustle could be.”

Using artificial light to see in the pitch-black forest, the researchers spent hours investigating tropical organisms. Among their finds, they discovered the bullet ant, named for a debilitating sting that some say is the most painful in existence. The creature rested comfortably on the handrail of the guided trail, unbothered by its visitors.

“It was the process of turning over every log and exploring every dark hole we encountered that made the night-hike so special,” Kukla said. “This trip really shows you how science works at the smallest levels.”

Since 1968, Eastern’s biology department has taken students on a tropical biology field experience—known as a “global field course” (GFC)—in international locales. This May, a riveting trip to Costa Rica marked the department’s 50th annual trip. The country is a frequent destination due to its tropical rainforests and rich biodiversity.


The biology GFC is the longest running program of its kind at Eastern. Destinations have changed over time, initially taking students to Bermuda. In 1984, the department introduced Jamaica as a second location, though Belize took its place by 1986. Bermuda and Belize alternated each year until 2001, when San Salvador Island in the Bahamas replaced Bermuda. Costa Rica replaced the Belize course as a destination in 2008.

Biology Professor Charles Booth has seen much of this evolution, teaching more than 20 global field courses throughout his Eastern tenure.

“My first trip was in May of 1985 to Bermuda with former professors Barry Wulff and Michael Gable,” he said. “I have many great memories — nighttime walks through the Belize rainforest, using a headlamp to spot animals; scuba diving with hammerhead sharks off San Salvador; visiting spectacular Mayan ruins in Belize and Guatemala. My best memories are sharing the experiences with students.”

“Every time I teach the course, I have unique experiences,” said Biology Professor Patricia Szczys. “What I love most about the tropical biology course is to witness the first-time rainforest experiences of my students. Plants, animals and cultural differences that have become familiar to me over 20 years feel new and exciting when I travel with them. Each student brings me a new perspective.”


Szczys, alongside Biology Professor Matthew Graham, accompanied 14 students on the trip this May. During the school year preceding the trip, students worked in groups to read the literature and design an experiment later to be executed in Costa Rica. This coming fall 2018 semester, they will analyze the data and create posters that convey their research. Several students are planning to submit their work for publication.

Biology student Jessica Purick and her group studied the effects of visual and olfactory cues on behavioral responses of the strawberry poison dart frog. “It was a very hands-on adventure with lots of hiking and sightseeing. It definitely made me want to do another research trip in the future and travel more in general.”

“The knowledge and experiences that I gained during my days in Costa Rica were invaluable,” added student Nathan Murphy. “Not only did the trip allow me to explore places I’d never imagined seeing before, it also allowed our class to perform scientific research projects involving real-world data collection and experimentation that would not be possible in the United States.”

Eastern students scuba dive in the Bahamas.

“For students in our tropical biology courses,” said Booth, “the biological concepts they read about in textbooks and hear about in lectures come alive when they visit an oceanic island, snorkel on a coral reef or walk through a tropical rainforest. They see exotic plants and animals up close and gain a sense of how tropical organisms interact. They learn how plant and animal communities are structured and how they differ from the communities that we have in New England.”

Booth continued: “The students also learn about new cultures. They see how the local people interact with their environment, how they use native plants and animals for food and medicine. Bermuda, Belize and the Bahamas are English-speaking countries, former British colonies, but they have distinct histories, cultures and customs. The Costa Rica course exposes students to a very different, predominantly Spanish-speaking culture. Among the students who go on these trips, some have never been out of New England, some have never flown on a plane before and some have never been out of the United States. The trips become a transforming experience for many, exposing them to a world they may have only read about or perhaps never knew existed.”

Speaking to the transformation, Kukla added, “These trips really make you feel like you’re transitioning from a student to a scientist.”

In San Salvador, students study the biology of tropical terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Marine studies focus on coral reef, sea grass bed, mangrove, beach and rocky shore communities. Terrestrial studies examine cave, mud flat, sand dune and upland shrub communities. San Salvador’s flora and fauna include both native and introduced species, making the island a natural laboratory for studying island biogeography.

Studying in Costa Rica increases student understanding of tropical ecosystems by reviewing fundamental concepts of tropical ecology, as well as various topics currently attracting research attention. Considerable effort is devoted to assignments and activities designed to enhance educational value. In addition to factual and conceptual content, the course centers on the design and execution of field studies in tropical biology.


“All students return changed in some way,” said Szczys. “Some students realize that they love and have a talent for field work, others realize that they are much more interested in laboratory-based biology. All return with an appreciation of tropical biodiversity and the complexity of tropical field studies, along with an understanding of a new culture. Our students return having overcome environmental, cultural and intellectual challenges.”

These challenges, according to Szczys, include handling wildlife, lack of air conditioning amid intense humidity, and troubleshooting experimental designs with limited Internet service.

“For most, perhaps all students, the trips offer a chance to reflect on their personal lives and goals,” added Booth. “Some students decide they want to travel more, and they have newfound confidence in their ability to travel internationally, while some want to go to graduate school to study tropical environments. Others simply have a new perspective on their lives in the United States after having experienced life in another country.”

He also noted that global field courses are as much a learning experience for faculty as they are for students. “I learn something new on every trip — not just biology, but I have gained a better understanding of countries we have visited, and have gotten to know the students better. These experiences helped, I think, to make me a better teacher and mentor back on campus, and to make me a more informed citizen.”

Szczys concurred, “It is a privilege to share my interests as a biologist and experience as a global citizen with my students.”

“The Costa Rica trip was absolutely unforgettable,” concluded Kukla. “I am so thankful to Eastern for providing me with this opportunity that has sparked a permanent interest in rainforest biology.”

Written by Jordan Corey