Eastern Welcomes New Full-Time Faculty, Staff

Eastern Connecticut State University welcomed several new full-time faculty and administrative staff to the campus community this fall. They include Eastern alumni, former adjunct professors and scholars from across the country and beyond. Their knowledge and expertise will benefit students and the University as a whole as they settle into departments across campus. Eastern’s new hires include:

Academic faculty

Education

Caitlin Tenney

Caitlin Tenney is a new assistant professor in the Department of Education.  She is interested in working on projects that advocate for women and minorities in science and science education. Tenney has taught science at the high school level and served as an adjunct instructor in Eastern’s Biology Department. She has a master’s degree in secondary science education from the University of Massachusetts.

“Eastern is a special place and teaching here is a privilege,” said Tenney, who enjoys working with students of different backgrounds as well as her passionate and supportive colleagues. “I hope to bring a powerful energy and love of learning to my students. I want to prepare them to be great teachers who will make a positive and lasting impact in this world.”

Outside of academia, Tenney loves to travel and enjoys outdoor activities such as snowboarding and swimming in the ocean. She also loves spending time with her four-year-old twins and cheering on her husband’s hockey team.

Heather Bassett

Heather Bassett ’09 is a new assistant professor in the Department of Education. A graduate of Eastern’s early childhood education program, she is currently working on her doctoral degree in early childhood special education at the University of Connecticut. She is interested in family-centered practices and the infusion of creativity into the classroom.

“I hope to bring out my students’ unique talents and strengths,” said Bassett. “It is my mission to empower students so they have what it takes to teach in the ever-changing 21st century.”

Outside of work, Bassett enjoys spending time with her husband and two young sons. She and her husband are also licensed real estate agents who buy, sell and renovate properties. 

Matthew Puhlick is a new assistant professor in the Department of Education. A two-time graduate of Eastern (undergraduate degree in 1993; master’s degree in 2001), he has a doctoral degree in curriculum, teaching, learning and leadership from Northeastern University. Puhlick has taught at the elementary school level and has expertise with educational technology for curricular planning and delivery.

“I am thrilled to return to the campus that has provided me with so many opportunities,” said Puhlick. “I hope my many years of experience in education allow me to help prospective teachers challenge their assumptions, learn new skills and think critically about the world of education.”

Puhlick also enjoys cooking, traveling and exploring the world with his wife and three children.

Biology

Derek Laux is a new assistant professor in the Department of Biology, specializing in cell biology. Laux earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh. His research has focused on the role of innate immune cells in early cancer development.

“I am excited to help Eastern students grow and to train the next generation of biological scientists,” said Laux. “I love the field of biology. I hope my students develop a love of science, an appetite for discovery, a passion for hard work, and learn that all of us can contribute a verse to the records of life and learning.”

Outside of the lab, Laux enjoys being outdoors, surfing, reading and playing the piano.

Performing Arts

DeRon Williams

DeRon Williams is a new assistant professor for the Theatre Program, specializing in directing. Williams received his master’s in arts administration from Eastern Michigan University and his Ph.D. in Fine Arts-Theatre at Texas Tech University. He is a director, arts administrator and scholar of 20th– and 21st-century American drama and Black expressive culture.

“Eastern is student-centered and committed to diverse perspectives, which I believe is the purpose of higher education and imperative for future leaders, arts supporters and global citizens,” said Williams. “It is my hope to engage students in diverse perspectives of the arts, imparting my knowledge and love for Black theatre and performance through seminar and practical courses.”

Outside of academia, Williams enjoys going to the theatre, traveling and spending time with family and friends.

David Ballena

David Ballena is a new assistant professor for the Music Program, specializing in piano. A native of Peru, he received his early training at the Conservatorio Nacional de Musica before traveling to the United States where he earned a Doctor of Musical Arts in Collaborative Piano from the University of Maryland-College Park.

“I am excited to be more involved in the life of the campus community,” said Ballena, who has taught at Eastern for the past five years as an adjunct professor for the Music Program. “I look forward to sharing with my students the many things I’ve learned from my own teachers and professional experience—I hope to help them understand the resilience and work ethic required to succeed in a career in music.”

Outside of work, Ballena and his wife enjoy playing tennis and attending tournaments. They drive every summer to Colorado, where he works at the Aspen Music Festival.

Business Administration

Jean Cooley

Jean Cooley is a new assistant professor in the Department of Business Administration, specializing in accounting. Cooley earned master’s degrees in business administration and accounting at Northeastern University, and has more than 20 years of experience as a certified public accountant.

“I hope to encourage students to use their time at Eastern to truly discover their passions,” said Cooley. “I want to get them excited about their futures and learn to use their talents to impact others’ lives.”

Cooley also enjoys listening to music, riding roller coasters, traveling and spending time with family.

Erik Christensen ’07 is a new assistant professor in the Department of Business Administration, specializing in accounting. An Eastern graduate, he also holds a master’s degree in accounting from the University of Connecticut. Christensen is a certified public accountant who has served as the finance director for the Town of Griswold.

“I hope to impart in students the knowledge students will need to be successful,” said Christensen. “I hope to bring my industry experience into the classroom and share some of the experiences I’ve had as a CPA.”

Outside of work, Christensen enjoys watching and playing sports, traveling and being on the ocean.

Computer Science

Tim Hartley is a new assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science. He holds a master’s degree in computer science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a master’s degree in linguistics from the University of Connecticut, as well as a diploma in Mandarin Chinese from the Defense Language Institute, which he earned while serving in the U.S. Air Force. Hartley has held full-time appointments as an assistant professor at the University of Hartford and as an associate professor at Rensselaer at Hartford. He has also co-authored three textbooks on database technology.

Health Science

Paul Canavan is a new assistant professor in the Department of Health Sciences. An expert on the lower extremity of the body, Canavan earned a Master of Arts and Ph.D. in Kinesiology from the University of Connecticut as well as a Doctor of Physical Therapy from Northeastern University.

“I’m excited to join Eastern full time,” said Canavan, who has taught at Eastern as an adjunct professor for three years. “I hope to bring to students a desire to learn and provide opportunities for them to practically apply class information.”

Outside of academia, Canavan enjoys hiking, fishing, reading and spending time with his wife and son.

Mitchell Doucette is a new assistant professor in the Department of Health Science. He received his Ph.D. in Health Policy and Management from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and was selected as the 2017-18 William Haddon Jr. Fellow in Injury Prevention. Doucette’s research interests include injury prevention and control and longitudinal panel analysis.

Sociology

Rachael Pesta is a new assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, Criminology and Social Work, specializing in criminology. She received her master’s degree in criminal justice from Youngstown State University and her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Akron. Pesta’s teaching interests include criminological theory, research methods and social inequalities in the criminal justice system.

“I am excited to join an institution that provide students with a top-quality liberal arts education that extends beyond the classroom and brings ‘textbook learning’ to life,” said Pesta. “I am eager to engage students in critical and abstract thinking by using active learning. It’s important that students see how theory impacts the world around us and informs our everyday life.”

Pesta enjoys reading, hiking the beautiful trails around Connecticut, and listening to podcasts. 

Administrative faculty

Admissions

Dempsey Schott

Dempsey Schott is the newest admissions counselor for the Office of Admissions. She graduated from Muhlenberg College in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing, and has experience as a head tour guide with Muhlenberg’s admissions office during her undergraduate career. This fall, Schott will be travelling to Fairfield County and Long Island to recruit students.

“I am excited to be a part of a community that cares about shaping graduates who are informed and successful global citizens,” said Schott, who is attracted to Eastern’s public liberal arts mission. “I hope to showcase the institution to prospective students who otherwise might not have considered Eastern.”

Outside of work, you can find Schott running, hiking, baking vegan desserts, singing and drinking excessive amounts of coffee.

Financial Aid

Velma Walters

Velma Walters is an assistant to the director in the Office of Financial Aid. She earned her master’s degree in public administration from American International College and has more than 20 years of experience in higher education and more than 15 years in financial aid. Among her duties, Walters will work with the STEP/CAP Program.

“I am excited to be part of a fantastic liberal arts university that is rich in diversity and producing well-rounded leaders who make their mark on society,” said Walters. “I bring to Eastern my experience, my passion for education and my commitment to helping students realize their dream of a college degree.”

Walters is also a member of the public service organization Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., as well as an independent beauty consultant for Mary Kay Skin Care & Cosmetics.

Registrars

Mary-Francis Ricks

Mary-Francis Ricks ’11 is an assistant degree auditor in the Office of the Registrar. An Eastern graduate with a degree in communication, she earned a master’s degree in human development and family studies from the University of Rhode Island. Ricks has higher education experience in advising, career services and housing.

“Eastern is the place that sparked my passion for student affairs; I’m excited to be working at a university that aligns with my values,” said Ricks, who often interacts with graduating seniors in her new role. “I hope to be a guiding, clarifying resource for these students.”

Ricks loves to travel, and recently visited Ireland. In February she plans to explore Spain.

Academic Services Center

Carlos Castillo is a professional advisor with the Academic Services Center. He holds a master’s degree in organizational management and leadership from Springfield College and comes to Eastern after being a family and community engagement liaison with the Capitol Region Educational Council in Harford. Castillo is currently completing his dissertation for a doctorate in adult learning.

Lauren Eddy is a professional advisor with the Academic Services Center. She joins Eastern after working at the University of Maine as an athletic academic counselor. She is a graduate of Central Connecticut State University where she earned bachelor’s degrees in history and English and a master’s in counseling with a concentration in student development.

Written by Michael Rouleau