Students Study Biology in Costa Rica

Student group near the continental divide in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

Written by Dwight Bachman

On May 20, 14 Eastern Biology students and professors Patricia Szczys and Matthew Graham travelled to Costa Rica to conduct research in that country’s tropical forests.

The group hiking in Arenal Volcano National Park, the ceiba tree is estimated to be 300 years old and sporting iconic rainforest tree butresses.

The group had been planning the 12-day trip since January, using the spring semester to read scientific literature and prepare research proposals for studies they would conduct while in Costa Rica.

Male (left) and Female (right) Green and Black Poison Dart frog Dendrobates auratus, the focus of two student research projects this year.

During six days in the humid lowland rainforest at Selva Verde, the students completed experiments on leaf-cutter ant foraging strategies; individual recognition cues by the strawberry poison-dart frog; effectiveness of aposematic warning colors and patterns in snakes; population density and sex ratio of the green and black poison-dart frog; and avian predator avoidance behavior by poison frogs. Several of these experiments will be presented at undergraduate research conferences during this coming academic year.

“The experiences and knowledge that I have gained during my eleven days in Costa Rica on Eastern’s Tropical Biology Global Field Course were invaluable,” said Murphy’ 20. “Not only did the trip allow me to see and explore places I’d never imagined seeing, but it also allowed our whole class to perform scientific research projects that involved real world data collection and experimentation that would not be possible in the United States.”

Students stand near a tree recently cleared from the trail. On Saturday, May 19, tornado-like winds damaged the forest at the La Selva Research Station in Costa Rica, toppling hundreds of trees, several canopy research platforms, and changing the forest for 100 years or more. This tree is probably more than 200 years old.

“The Costa Rica trip was absolutely unforgettable, not only for the invaluable in-field experience gained, but, additionally, for the mutually shared memories that I made with my classmates and professors that I’ll remember forever, said Kukla ’19. “I am grateful to Eastern, as this opportunity has definitely sparked a permanent interest in Rain Forest Biology. The biggest thank you must be given to Dr. Szczys and Dr. Graham for constantly answering all of our questions, pointing out small details that could easily be missed, and lastly, just being amazing professors who inspired us as students throughout the entire trip.” 

In addition to their research, the group spent time hiking, observing animals and identifying plants that interact to produce the rich biodiversity of the tropical rainforest. The group visited the world-renowned La Selva Biological Research Station; toured an organic export-oriented pineapple plantation; hiked the lava fields at Arenal Volcano National Park; toured the Don Juan coffee plantation; and hiked to the Continental Divide in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

“This trip was so valuable to me because it forced me to come out of my comfort zone in all the best ways,” said Pinto’19. “It’s not every day that you can say you conducted your own research in such a beautiful place filled with amazing biodiversity!”

The Tropical Biology course and field trip to Costa Rica is offered in alternating spring semesters and fulfills an upper-level course requirement for Biology majors. In other years, biology students travel to San Salvador, Bahamas, continuing the Biology Department’s tradition of offering the Tropical Biology course every year since 1968. Professor Szczys has been leading groups to Costa Rica since it replaced Belize as the course location in 2008 and Professor Graham joined in 2016. “This year’s students were especially excited to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Tropical Biology program at Eastern,” said Szczys

South Dakota to Kentucky, Eastern Students Conduct NSF Research

Taylor Brown and a team of researchers in the East Fork Indian Creek.

Two Eastern Connecticut State University students have spent the summer working on National Science Foundation-sponsored research projects in Sioux Falls, SD, and Menifee County, KY. Psychology major Kelly Bielonko ’18 has been learning about the challenges faced by rural Native Americans in Sioux Falls, while biology major Taylor Brown ’18 has been monitoring river restoration efforts of the East Fork Indian Creek in Kentucky.

Both students are participating in 10-week Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs), a program of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

In South Dakota, Bielonko has tackled a number of projects at the Sanford Research institute in Sioux Falls. Among them, she’s been conducting an analysis of the factors and outcomes of burnout-related teacher attrition in tribal and rural schools in the United States.

Kelly Bielonko at Sanford Research in Sioux Falls

“The focus of my topic comes from my passion for organizational psychology, occupational health and serving those who are underserved,” said Bielonko. “I am looking at cultural, community, school-level and student-level factors that contribute to teachers becoming ‘burned’ out, as well as the outcomes that follow.”

Brown, on the other hand, has been examining the impact of “cross-vanes” on fish diversity and habitat quality along a restored site of the East Fork Indian Creek in Kentucky. Cross-vanes are U-shaped structures made with rocks or boulders to direct energy toward the center of the channel rather than toward the stream bank, which is supposed to reduce erosion, improve habitat and provide stability of the channel.

“This interests me because my goal is to work in conservation,” said Brown. “By doing this project, I am able to provide information to researchers of organizations, such as the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, regarding the impact that their stream management structures are having. I get to see if these structures are actually benefitting the area.”

Both students have had to navigate certain challenges during their REU. For Bielonko, the lack of existing research available on American tribal teacher attrition has made it difficult to carry out a systematic literature review. Meanwhile, Brown has had to familiarize herself with previously foreign topics of study and work around weather conditions that impact the data collection process.

Taylor Brown

Each challenge, however, has made them stronger researchers, as has conducting research out of state versus doing it locally.

“It’s been a wonderful experience to travel to Kentucky, specifically the central Appalachia,” said Brown. “I had never been here before, so I’ve gotten to learn about the environment while simultaneously doing research, which I really like. I’ve also met a diverse group of people that I most likely wouldn’t have met without doing this REU. I’m the only person out of the 10 interns from the Northeast.”

Bielonko concurred, “The experience of being away from home has been incredible, even though I miss Connecticut greatly. Being in a new place, with new people and new things to do, is refreshing and widens your perspective. In the past nine weeks I have learned an incredible deal about myself, industry, academia and the world itself. I will be coming home refreshed to take on my senior year and am motivated to bring back to Eastern what I’ve learned here in Sioux Falls at Sanford Research.”

Some objectives of the NSF-funded program are to enhance students’ overall knowledge of the research process, develop their communication skills and assist them in short- and long-term goal setting to increase future educational and research-related career success.

“The REU has had a significant impact on my research insight,” said Brown. “I have done a considerable amount of fieldwork, learned new techniques and have figured out the direction that I want to go in from here. I am excited to do more research in the future.”

NSF REU participants work directly with faculty mentors and collaborators, including agency professionals, and engage in all aspects of research including study design, data collection, analyses and presentation of results. Those accepted into the program include individuals from the study region, and from other parts of the nation, often from diverse socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Written by Jordan Corey

Eastern Student Awarded American Society of Plant Biologists Fellowship

Roshani Budhathoki ’19 and her mentor, Biology Professor Vijaykumar Veerappan.

By Anne Pappalardo

Eastern Connecticut State University student Roshani Budhathoki ’19 was recently awarded a summer undergraduate research fellowship from the American Society of Plant Biologists.

The ASPB Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows program funds promising undergraduate students so they can conduct research in plant biology over 10 weeks during the early part of their college careers. The scholarship includes a generous stipend, funds for research supplies and a travel grant to attend the 2019 Biology Research Conference in San Jose, CA, as well as a two-year ASPB membership.

The scholarship is a nationally competitive award. Budhathoki is one of only three awardees selected from the “Primarily Undergraduate Institution” category. She is also a recipient of Eastern’s Department of Biology’s Marc Freeman Summer Research Scholarship. Budhathoki has given oral presentations of her research work at several professional conferences, including the American Society of Plant Biologists-Northeast Section Meeting and the Eastern Colleges Science Conference. She received best oral presentation awards at both conferences, and also presented at Eastern’s on-campus research conference in the spring.

“When Roshani approached me in Fall 2017 to do independent research in my lab, I accepted her without hesitation because she was one of the best students in my genetics course. Roshani is passionate about plants and her long-term goal is to get a Ph.D. in plant breeding and genomics,” said Budhathoki’s faculty mentor, Biology Professor Vijaykumar Veerappan.

“I am looking forward to working on this project this summer and will hopefully present my findings at the 2019 annual ASPB meeting,” said Budhathoki. “This fellowship will help me continue my proposed research – it’s a wonderful opportunity to gain research experience and hands-on training while I am preparing to apply for graduate schools.”

“I am thankful to Eastern’s Biology Department for supporting undergraduate research. I found out about this fellowship from Professor Veerappan. Professor Ross Koning also assisted me in the application process and wrote a recommendation letter. Another great thing about the fellowship is that it welcomes international students like me.”

 

Eastern Named a 2018 College of Distinction

WILLIMANTIC, CT (06/18/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University has been recognized as a 2018-19 College of Distinction by the college-guide/ranking organization Colleges of Distinction.

The organization praised Eastern for its student-centered approaches and high-impact educational practices. High-impact practices of note include Eastern’s community-based learning programs, intensive writing courses, living-learning communities for residents, undergraduate research, internships and other hands-on learning experiences.

“We are absolutely thrilled to recognize Eastern Connecticut State University as a College of Distinction for its effective dedication to student success,” said Tyson Schritter, CEO for Colleges of Distinction. “Colleges of Distinction is so impressed with Eastern’s curriculum, which is enriched with the kind of high-impact educational practices that are most crucial for student development. Such innovative engagement is preparing the next generation of young adults to thrive after college.”

Colleges of Distinction’s selection process consists of a review of each institution’s freshman experience and retention efforts alongside its general education programs, alumni success, strategic plan, student satisfaction and more. Schools are accepted on the basis that they adhere to the Four Distinctions: Engaged Students, Great Teaching, Vibrant Community and Successful Outcomes.

“Colleges of Distinction is far more than a ranking list of colleges and universities,” said Schritter. “We seek out the schools that are wholly focused on the student experience, constantly working to produce graduates who are prepared for a rapidly changing global society. Again recognized as a College of Distinction, Eastern Connecticut State University stands out in the way it strives to help its students to learn, grow and succeed.”

Top U.S. Mental Health Official Speaks at Eastern’s 128th Commencement

                                                                            Eastern Graduates 1,200 Students at XL Center

Written by Ed Osborn

Elinore McCance-Katz

Hartford, CT — Eastern Connecticut State University alumna Elinore McCance-Katz, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), told the graduates and their families at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 128th Commencement exercises that the current opioid crisis facing the United States is “the nation’s greatest medical challenge since the AIDS epidemic of the 1990s. It is a tragedy of major proportions, and we need to work together to help those addicted get treatment and recover from this disease.”

Eastern’s annual graduation ceremony was held at the XL Center in Hartford on May 15, with more than 12,000 family members and friends cheering on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,105 undergraduates and 85 graduate students received their diplomas.

McCance-Katz told the audience that Eastern had grown from a small college when she attended Eastern Connecticut State College in the 1970s to become “a comprehensive university that has flourished.”

The commencement speaker also received an honorary doctor of science degree from Eastern in a special hooding ceremony during the graduation exercises.  She graduated magna cum laude from Eastern in 1978 with a degree in biology. Following a sterling career in medicine, psychiatry, academic achievement and public administration, McCance-Katz’s DHHS appointment in August 2017 made her the first assistant secretary-level director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

After earning her degree from Eastern, Dr. McCance-Katz went on to earn a Ph.D. at Yale University in Infectious Disease Epidemiology in 1984, and then received her M.D. from the University of Connecticut in 1987. 

After completing a residency in psychiatry, she held teaching positions at the Yale School of Medicine, Brown University, Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of California in San Francisco, the University of Texas and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Prior to her HHS appointment, McCance-Katz was Chief Medical Officer of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals from 2015 to 2017, and served as professor of psychiatry and human behavior and professor of behavioral and social sciences at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University.

Describing how her professional journey had taken her from treating AIDS patients in the 1990s to her current national leadership role in treating substance abuse and mental illness, McCance-Katz described federal and state efforts to develop new recovery services and support services.  “We will turn the tide on this epidemic,” she said, urging graduates to get involved as medical professionals, nurses, counselors and social workers.

 “Be adventurous. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Be an advocate for those who have not had the advantages you have had.  There is no greater satisfaction than helping others.”

Eastern President Elsa Núñez

Other speakers at the Commencement Exercises included Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Yvette Meléndez, vice-chairof the Board of Regents for Higher Education; and Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State College and Universities System. Additional members of the platform party included Justin Murphy ’98, president of the ECSU Foundation; Father Laurence LaPointe; and other Eastern officials.

Núñez told the graduates their liberal arts education at Eastern was highly prized by American employers.  “In five separate surveys conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities over the past decade, the vast majority of employers — over 90 percent! — say they are less interested in specialized job proficiencies, favoring instead analytical thinking, teamwork and communication skills — the wide-ranging academic and social competencies available through a liberal arts education.”

Núñez also urged the graduates to give back to their communities, saying, “I know that the majority of our seniors have found ways to donate their time and good will to making our community a better place to live.  Wherever you end up — in Connecticut or beyond — make sure you continue to give a portion of your time to make a difference in your community.” 

Lastly, Núñez encouraged the Eastern seniors to be active citizens as they participate in the American democratic system of self-governance. She quoted New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, who has written that disagreement is “the most vital ingredient of any decent society. It defines our individuality, gives us our freedom, enjoins our tolerance, enlarges our perspectives, makes our democracies real, and gives hope and courage to oppressed people everywhere.”

“So never abdicate your responsibilities as a citizen to someone else,” said Núñez. “Be willing to question the status quo.  And stand up for the values you believe in.”

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 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.

Senior Class President Charlotte MacDonald presented the Senior Class Gift to President Nunez — an annual Class of 2018 scholarship — and thanked her classmates’ families, friends and faculty for supporting the senior class in its journey. Recalling the Eastern tradition where freshmen toss a penny into a fountain on campus as they make a wish — presumably to graduate in four years — MacDonald shared her own three wishes with her classmates. “My first wish is that you go confidently in the direction of your passions . . . the education you have received at Eastern has prepared you for this.  My second wish is for you not only to better yourself but others around you. Contribute to your community, offer things you no longer use to those in desperate need, volunteer your time . . . My last wish is that you find a path to happiness. . . your willingness to conquer challenges is what will separate you from the majority.”

Meléndez, former vice president of government and community alliances for Hartford Hospital, spoke on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, expressing gratitude to all who had supported Eastern’s graduates — parents, family, friends and especially Eastern’s faculty. “Their commitment to your success is what makes this university so special. Today is a significant milestone.  We hope today is merely a catalyst for a fulfilling life as each of you pursues your goals.”

Michele Bacholle, Distinguished Professor of the Year

 

Ojakian also offered remarks, commending Eastern President Núñez, her administrative team and “an exceptional faculty that guided you onyour journey to get to today.  The journey is now yours. It is your own path and your own truth that will motivate you . . .  Trust your instincts . . .  You have an obligation to leave this world a better place.  Take charge!”

This year’s graduation ceremonies again reflected Eastern’s Commencement traditions, ranging from the Governor’s Foot Guard Color Guard, 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. University Senate President Maryanne Clifford presided over the commencement exercises; seniors Halie Poirier, Michael Beckstein and Hannah Bythrow sang “America the Beautiful”; Senior Nathan Cusson gave the invocation; and French Professor Michèle Bacholle was recognized as the 2018 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.

Eastern Student is Connecticut’s only 2018 Goldwater Scholar

Eastern Connecticut State University student Jacob Dayton ’18, a biology major from Bolton, has been awarded the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship for undergraduates in STEM fields who intend to pursue a Ph.D. and research career. Dayton is Eastern’s first Goldwater recipient and intends to attend graduate school in genomics.

“I am truly honored to be a recipient of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship,” said Dayton. “This recognition is a testament to the strength of Eastern’s biology program and the value of the research experiences I have acquired in Dr. Patricia Szczys’ laboratory. Throughout my biology coursework and research at Eastern, I have learned how scholarship and experimental inquiry are engaging and never-ending. The more scientific literature I read, conferences I am able to attend and researchers I meet, the more questions I have. Receiving the Goldwater Scholarship is affirmation that I am on the right track in pursuing a career in research.”

This year 1,280 students from 455 institutions across the country were nominated for a Goldwater scholarship, and 211 were named Goldwater Scholars. Dayton is the only student from a Connecticut institution to receive a Goldwater Scholarship this year. He intends to pursue a Ph.D. in molecular biology, with eventual plans to conduct research in molecular and evolutionary genomics and teach at the university level.

During his time at Eastern, Dayton has conducted research with Biology Professor Patty Szczys to study genetic diversity in roseate terns; collaborated with scientists from France, Poland and the Ukraine on the Whiskered Tern Population Genetic Structure study; published his findings in the peer-reviewed journal “Waterbirds”; and presented at the annual meeting of the International Waterbird Society, the Northeast Region-1 TriBeta Conference and Eastern’s CREATE conference.

In addition to the Goldwater Scholarship, Dayton has received awards ranging from the President’s Award for Research to the Marc Freeman Scholarship to support his summer science research project, and others.

Active on campus, Dayton also served as a research-lab peer mentor, president and secretary of Eastern’s Biology Club, and as a tutor at Windham Middle School.

Dayton was recently accepted into a National Science Foundation-funded research program at the Jackson Laboratory for this coming summer, joining other students from Stanford University, the University of Chicago, Hofstra University, Colorado State University and other institutions.

Written by Ed Osborn

CREATE Conference Shows Breadth and Depth of Eastern Students

Written by Michael Rouleau

Displays of research and creativity filled the Student Center at Eastern Connecticut State University on April 13 for the annual CREATE conference. CREATE stands for “Celebrating Research Excellence and Artistic Talent at Eastern,” and is the University’s premier undergraduate conference of the academic year.

CREATE featured more than 200 students of all majors who led oral and poster presentations, panel discussions, music and dance performances, art and photography exhibitions, as well as documentary viewings and new-media demonstrations.

Students give a musical performance.
A student gives an oral presentation.
Conference patrons peruse the CREATE art gallery.
Students give a theatrical performance.

 

“This conference really cements our slogan that Eastern offers a ‘liberal arts education, practically applied,’” said Brian Oakley, conference co-chair and professor of environmental earth science. “It’s evident when you look around and see the breadth and depth of the work being done by our students.”

“There is no event on campus more important than CREATE,” affirmed Eastern President Elsa Nunez. “Some of the work on display represents three or four years of problem solving, testing and intellectual pursuit. This event is more than a source of pride; it’s a validation of our university’s mission.”

Midway through the conference, two students and two faculty members received awards for undergraduate research and faculty mentorship.

Julie Underhill ’18, who majors in labor relations and human resources management, and Tess Candler ’18, who double majors in political science and economics, received the undergraduate research awards. The faculty awards went to Underhill and Candler’s mentors, respectively: Business Administration Professor Niti Pandey and Political Science Professor Courtney Broscious.

Award recipients Julie Underhill (middle) and Niti Pandey (right) with Provost Dimitrios Pachis.
Award recipients Courtney Broscious (middle) and Tess Candler (right) with Provost Dimitrios Pachis.

 

“Without the professors we cannot celebrate the success of the students,” reminded Provost Dimitrios Pachis, “and without the students we cannot celebrate the success of the professors. This is how the world works, the yin and the yang. With this sort of partnership, we create the future.”

The CREATE conference advances Eastern’s strategic plan by reinforcing high-impact practices such as mentored research and creative projects; increasing the percentage of students who present scholarly work; raising awareness of the accomplishments of Eastern students; and contributing to the intellectual richness of the campus community.

Eastern Students Win Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Awards

Eastern’s 2018 Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Awardees Nadia Balassone ’18 (left) and Yuberki Delgadillo ’18 (right) with Eastern President Elsa Nunez

Written by Anne Pappalardo

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/19/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University students Nadia Balassone ’18 of East Hartford and Yuberki Delgadillo ’18 of Quaker Hill were named the recipients of the 2018 Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Award on April 17. The 30th annual Henry Barnard Awards Banquet, held at the Aqua Turf Club in Plantsville, CT, recognized 12 outstanding undergraduates from Connecticut’s four state universities – Central, Eastern, Southern and Western.

The Barnard Awards program is the premier academic recognition event of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System (CSCU) and is sponsored by the CSCU Foundation. To be considered for the award, a student must have at least a 3.75 GPA, a record of community service and be nominated by their respective university president.

Balassone, an English and Business Administration major, carries a 3.89 GPA and is on the Dean’s List. She is a writing tutor and received the Academic Excellence Scholarship. She is also president of Sigma Tau Delta, the international English honor society, staff writer for the student-run Campus Lantern newspaper and was vice president of the Entrepreneurship Club. She has an internship at the Institute of Sustainable Energy, where she helped pilot the Sustainable CT statewide certification program, represented at the Governor’s Council on Climate Change, and completed an internship at Waste Management National Accounts, where she gained insight into recycling. She volunteers at an animal shelter and plans to pursue law school to work the sustainability field in environmental or animal law. Balassone was recently accepted at Quinnipiac Law School for the fall term.

“From the minute I stepped foot on Eastern’s campus, I could tell it was a community,” said Balassone. “I think that was one of the biggest deciding factors for me coming to Eastern. I wanted a sense of community and I wanted that support.

“Working as a peer tutor at the Writing Center has shaped me as a writer. I’ve learned how to communicate and reach back into my community. Receiving the Barnard Scholar Award is a huge honor for me. I would say it really punctuates the sense of community at Eastern for me,” she added.

“When Nadia worked in our Writing Center as a peer tutor, it turned her on to the world of rhetoric and composition,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “Combine that with her work in the Institute of Sustainable Energy and you can see why she plans to enter law school this fall in pursuit of environmental law. Nadia’s mom says he daughter is going to save the world and I’m convinced it will happen.”

Delgadillo, a Biology major, carries a 3.85 GPA and is also on the Dean’s List. She is an award-winning resident assistant, widely known for her leadership and scholarship. She is co-president of the Pre-Health Society and a member of the Tri-Beta National Biology Honor Societ, as well as a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society. She has also been a teaching assistant at Eastern, and presented her research at the National Conference of Undergraduate Research at the University of Central Oklahoma earlier this month.

Delgadillo works as a certified nursing assistant at St. Joseph’s Living Center and volunteers at Backus Hospital. She also participated in a pre-medical urban enrichment program at Cooper Medical School and will be travelling to Ghana this coming summer for a public health internship. Her goal is to become a nurse practitioner and eventually a nurse educator.

“The last four years at Eastern have definitely been years of growth,” said Delgadillo. “I had so many opportunities and I took every opportunity I had – just to learn about myself.

“I became interested in health care because of my experiences here at Eastern. I’ve loved helping people and sending people to the resources they need. Receiving the Henry Barnard Award is an honor. I feel like it truly reflects my past four years of being so involved – I feel like it’s really paid off.”

“Yuberki has combined her love of science and love of people to pursue her interest in nursing and plans to attend UConn’s School of Nursing next January,” said Núñez. “As a Biology major she has done research on Alzheimer’s disease and spent the six weeks last summer refining her interests and skills in medicine. She is now preparing to be certified as a medical interpreter to assist doctors with Spanish-speaking patients.

“Her hero is her mother, who was the first college graduate in her family back home in the Dominican Republic. She wants to make a difference in the lives of women and the elderly – and I know she will,” added Núnez.

Hartford native Henry Barnard was one of the principal forces in creating the American public school system in the 19th century, serving in the Connecticut General Assembly before becoming superintendent of schools in Connecticut and principal of the New Britain Normal School in 1850. He became the first U.S. commissioner of education in 1867.

 

Eastern to hold Ninth Annual Service Expo and Awards Ceremony

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/11/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University will hold its annual Service Expo and Awards Ceremony on April 19 from 2-5 p.m. in the lobby of the Fine Arts Instructional Center. Sponsored by the Center for Community Engagement (CCE), the event will showcase the numerous service projects being spearheaded by Eastern students in the Windham area.

Student volunteers will present posters describing their projects, which have occurred at more than 30 sites in the region. Guest judges from the community and Eastern faculty and staff will present awards for the best programs.

Awards will be given to the following individuals: Service Learning Award – Denise Matthews, professor of communication at Eastern; Community Program Award – Christy Calkins and Journey House Program at Natchaug Hospital; and Community Engagement Awards to Nancy Brennan, Interfaith Campus Ministry, Erin Corbett and student Makayla Mowel.

The expo will kick off with keynote speaker Erin Corbett of Second Chances, an education program within the Connecticut prison system. The event is open to the public. For more information, contact the CCE at (860) 465-0090.

4 Women Honored at Eastern’s Annual Ella Grasso Awards

Award-winners Laurel Cannon, Donna Mims and Regina Lester-Harriat

Written by Jordan Corey

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/03/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University’s annual Ella T. Grasso Distinguished Service Awards ceremony took place on March 28. Those honored included student Laurel Cannon of Ellington; English Professor Maureen McDonnell; and community members Donna Mims and Regina Lester-Harriat, who are leaders of the Pretty Brown Girl Club #85 at Metacomet Elementary School in Bloomfield.

Eastern student Laurel Cannon won the Student Award at the 2018 ceremony

The Student Award went to Laurel Cannon of Ellington, a senior who is double majoring in biology and psychology. Passionate about uplifting women in diverse ways, she founded the Cannon Project, an organization with a mission to educate, empower and support women of color. By promoting academic excellence and healthy lifestyle choices to ensure future success, Cannon hopes that the group can become a beneficial resource for minority women. “I plan to nurture this organization to its full potential,” she stated.

Regina Lester-Harriat and Donna Reed Mims received the Community Award for their work with the Pretty Brown Girl Club at Metacomet Elementary School in Bloomfield. The club is a component of the Pretty Brown Girl movement, which is dedicated to empowering girls at a young age.

“It’s an honor and it’s an obligation to be part of the community,” said Lester-Harriat, the school’s social worker and supervisor of the Student and Family Assistance Center. She noted that as somebody with a good upbringing, and good teachers to guide her along the way, she feels it is her mission to give something back to the children she works with. “They are so excited because they are a part of something special. It’s a blessing to be part of that journey.”

The recipient of the Faculty/Staff Award was English Professor Maureen McDonnell, who actively focuses on gender equity, anti-racist work and disability rights as the director of Eastern’s women’s and gender studies program. She played a major role in establishing Eastern as the only Connecticut public university that grants a degree in women’s and gender studies. Unable to attend the ceremony due to a conference, McDonnell pre-recorded a video message expressing her thanks and assuring her dedication to intersectional studies.

Keynote speaker Shelby Brown addresses the crowd

The keynote speaker – described by Eastern President Elsa Núñez as a “community activist in the best sense of the word”- was Shelby Brown, managing director of Everyday Democracy, a national organization dedicated to building an equitable, participatory democracy at all levels. She previously served as executive administrator of the Connecticut Office of Governmental Accountability.

Brown called on the audience to consider how a woman from a marginalized group might gain access to certain domains and how her experiences could differ from those of others. “How would she know that her voice matters?” She discussed the experiences of her mother, an “entrepreneur and fashionista” who worked tirelessly in pursuit of her own aspirations and instilled in Brown an understanding of why women are remarkable.

Brown touched on the necessity of assisting those who cannot claim their own voice, something that Everyday Democracy aims to do. “We have all contemplated the question ‘How can we do better?'” she asked. “‘Who can help us make a difference?'” She emphasized the power of “seeing yourself in the solution” and encouraged everyone to take ownership of public issues.