Eastern Recognizes Ella Grasso Award Winners 2019

Left to right, community activist Anne Ash; Shawn Ray Dousis ’19; State Sen. Mae Flexer; June Dunn, assistant dean in the Office of Continuing Studies and Enhanced Learning at Eastern; and President Elsa Núñez

Shawn Ray Dousis ’19 of East Lyme, president of the Foundation for Campus Ministry at Eastern Connecticut State University; June Dunn, assistant dean in the Office of Continuing Studies and Enhanced Learning at Eastern; and community activist Anne Ash, were named recipients of Eastern’s annual Ella T. Grasso Distinguished Service Awards on March 27. The event took place in the Paul E. Johnson Sr. Community Conference Room of the J. Eugene Smith Library.

Dousis won the student award category. She will graduate this May with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and a second major in Liberal Studies. At Eastern, she has served as a manager for Eastern’s men’s ice hockey team and as public relations officer of People Helping People. She currently serves as president of The Foundation for Campus Ministry. In 2017, Dousis established, planned, coordinated and facilitated “Shawn’s Cupboard,” Eastern’s Food Pantry.  The cupboard now serves many students, and has recently introduced a “Swipe It Forward” program that works through Chartwells, Eastern’s food service.  

Eastern President Elsa Núñez

“I am honored and grateful to have been chosen for this award and want to thank everyone involved for considering me,” said Dousis. “Our efforts with Shawn’s Cupboard have made food insecurity at Eastern less of a problem today than it was yesterday.”

Dunn won the faculty award. She has overseen the Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) program, along with several grant initiatives to assist students from marginalized communities in achieving their educational aspirations.  Prior to Eastern, she was the women studies conference and special events coordinator at Southern Connecticut State University. She also previously served as assistant to the director for the University of Connecticut’s Upward Bound Program, as well as Program Coordinator for Girls, Inc., in Stamford.

Dunn had an Ella T. Grasso story to tell. Her fifth-grade class at Hindley Elementary School suggested the sperm whale be made the state’s official animal. Hundreds of other schools and organizations across the state supported her, and Grasso signed the sperm whale bill in May 1975. Dunn eventually met the governor: “She was so authentic, down-to-earth and kind. This memory is why this award has additional special meaning and great honor to me.”

Rash, who won the community award, grew up in the 1940s and 1950s when girls playing basketball were limited to two bounces and could only play on half the court. Those challenges inspired Rash to become an educator, which provided a backdrop for working to make a difference in the lives of women and girls, locally and internationally. Her hands-on volunteer efforts include mentoring women in the Windham Area Interfaith Ministry (WAIM) Learning Partners Program; helping with fundraising efforts for Ecole Agape, the only free school for girls in Haiti; promoting the programs for women and girls as part of the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut (CFECT) Windham Women and Girls Fund; and encouraging literacy with Altrusa of Northeast Connecticut projects.

“It takes a village, so this award is shared with the people in this room,” said Rash. “My fellow awardees, my friends from Altrusa, the Windham Women and Girls Group, Ecole Agape School for Girls in  Haiti and the Community  Foundation, we all work together to make the world more equitable. We know that basketball has progressed, but there are still women who only have access to half court. We need to continue to work for full court access for all women!”

State Sen. Mae Flexer

In her welcoming remarks, Eastern President Elsa Núñez cited statistics showing women still earn “only $.81 for every dollar men make. Minority women make far less.” She engaged the audience in a series of cheers of “We Have Room to Grow!,” reminding those in attendance of “the special skills women possess.”

State Sen. Mae Flexer delivered the keynote address. Flexer said Grasso embodied what it means to live a life of commitment and service to others and to advocate for a more just and equal world. “Her dedication towards an issue like the underrepresentation of females in government – at a time when that issue was considered to be unimportant – is incredibly inspiring and meaningful, especially, as I stand here before you as a female elected official. She left an indelible mark on the state of Connecticut, but it also makes us think about our own legacy. In a hectic, ever-changing world, what are we doing to make our communities and our society just a bit better? I encourage everybody in this room to find what lights a spark within you and to pursue it. It may not always be easy, but it will always be worth it.”

Written by Dwight Bachman