Eastern Student Lauren Atkinson Wins NASA Scholarship

                                         Grant Will Help Study Antibiotic Resistance

Lauren Atkinson, left, and her research mentor Barbara Murdoch in the lab.

Written by Jolene Potter

Lauren Atkinson ’18, a Biology major at Eastern Connecticut State University from Harwinton, is one of 28 graduate or undergraduate students across Connecticut to receive a summer research fellowship from the NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium (CTSGC). Atkinson is using the scholarship to support her research titled “Evaluating the Scorpion Microbiome for Diversity and Antibiotic Production.”

Atkinson and Biology Professor Barbara Murdoch are testing bacteria naturally found in the abdomens of scorpions for their ability to produce antibiotics. Their focus on finding new antibiotics is due to the rising threat of antimicrobial resistance. Antimicrobial resistance is the ability of a microbe such as a virus, bacterium, or fungus to resist drugs that had been useful in treating them.

“The United Nations has declared antimicrobial resistance a fundamental global threat to human life, food production, economic development and security,” said Atkinson. “One step in responding to this threat is to develop new drugs that microbes have not developed resistance to.”

One may wonder how studying the bacteria in scorpions may help in the pursuit of new antibiotics. However, Atkinson pointed out that scorpions are an ancient lineage that has evolved alongside many terrestrial pathogens that they are exposed to in their diets. “We hypothesize that scorpions have formed symbiotic relationships with bacteria that produce antibiotics which protect the scorpions from these pathogens,” said Atkinson.

Antimicrobial resistance contributes to NASA’s overarching goal of human space exploration because under microgravity conditions, bacteria are able to grow and evolve more quickly than they do under Earth’s gravitational conditions. Therefore, the development of new antibiotics that pathogens have not evolved resistance for is crucial to long-term manned space flight.

“The discovery of new antibiotics would benefit the medical community and space exploration,” writes the CTSCG, “seeing as antibiotic resistance increases under microgravity and human immune systems weaken during missions.”

 

Eastern Makes “College Consensus” List of Top Colleges in Connecticut

Written by Ed Osborn

WILLIMANTIC, CT (01/26/2018) College Consensus, a unique new college review aggregator, has recognized Eastern Connecticut State University in its ranking of “Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18.” Eastern was ranked in the top 10 schools in Connecticut, and was one of only two public institutions chosen, the University of Connecticut being the other.

To identify the Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18, College Consensus averaged the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems, including U.S. News and World Report among others, along with thousands of student review scores, to produce a unique rating for each school. Read about the organization’s methodology at https://www.collegeconsensus.com/about.

“Congratulations on making the list of Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18,” said Carrie Sealey-Morris, managing editor of College Consensus. “Your inclusion in our ranking shows that your school has been recognized for excellence by both publishers on the outside and students and alumni on the inside.”

Part of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System, Eastern began its life in 1889 as a public normal school. Today the University is recognized as one of top 25 public universities in the North Region by U.S. News & World Report, and has been named one of the nation’s Green Colleges eight years in a row by the Princeton Review.

Eastern is Connecticut’s public liberal arts college, with a student body of 5,300 students; more than 90 percent of Eastern’s students are from Connecticut. Eastern’s size gives its students an uncommon degree of individualized attention, aided by a 15:1 student/faculty ratio and a strong commitment to student success.

In addition to a strong liberal art foundation, Eastern has many opportunities for students to engage in practical, hands-on learning, ranging from internships to study abroad, community service and undergraduate research. For instance, Eastern has sent more student researchers to the competitive National Conference on Undergraduate Research in the past four years than all the other public universities in Connecticut combined. In 2018, 41 of the 44 students from Connecticut who will present their research at the conference in April are from Eastern.

With its history, Eastern is also one of Connecticut’s foremost educators of teachers, and its professional studies and continuing education programs have made it an important institution for Connecticut’s working adults.

To see Eastern’s College Consensus profile, visit https://www.collegeconsensus.com/school/eastern-connecticut-state-university.

Eastern Breaks Into List of Top 25 Public Regional Universities

Written by Ed Osborn

eastern_front_entranceFor the first time, Eastern Connecticut State University made the list of the top 25 regional public universities in the North in this year’s U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 edition of “Best Colleges.” Eastern was the highest ranked university among the four Connecticut state universities. The annual rankings were released on Sept. 12.

•Theatre students perform Cervantes' "Pedro, The Great Pretender," as the first production in the Proscenium Theatre of Eastern's new Fine Arts Instructional Center

• Theatre students perform Cervantes’ “Pedro, The Great Pretender,” as the first production in the Proscenium Theatre of Eastern’s new Fine Arts Instructional Center

Regional universities such as Eastern are ranked on the basis of 16 criteria that include peer assessment, graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, admissions selectivity, financial resources and alumni giving. The North Region includes colleges and universities from New England, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.

•Biology major Elizabeth DelBuono '17 is in the graduate program in Genetic Counseling at Sarah Lawrence College.

• Biology major Elizabeth DelBuono ’17 is in the graduate program in Genetic Counseling at Sarah Lawrence College.

“I am gratified to see Eastern ranked in the top 25 public institutions in the North in this year’s U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 Best Colleges report,” said Eastern President Elsa Nunez. “Our commitment to high standards, our focus on providing students with personal attention, and the introduction of new academic programs have resulted in our favorable ranking. Students and their families turn to the Best Colleges rankings to help decide where to attend college.  These newest rankings reaffirm that Eastern is providing a relevant and high quality education on our beautiful residential campus.”

This year’s U.S. News and World Report rankings included reviews of 1,389 schools nationwide and are available at www.usnews.com/colleges. They will also be published in the Best Colleges 2017 Guidebook, published by U.S. News & World Report and available on newsstands on Oct. 10.

For the past 33 years, the U.S. News and World Report rankings, which group colleges based on categories created by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, have grown to be the most comprehensive research tool for students and parents considering higher education opportunities.

1978 Eastern Graduate Named to Major National Mental Health Post

McCance-KatzElinore McCance-Katz, M.D., Ph.D., a 1978 graduate of Eastern Connecticut State University, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Aug. 3 as the first Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use in the U.S. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), a member of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, helped create the new position as part of the Mental Health Reform Act that he co-sponsored with U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA).

“Every one of us has a family member or friend coping with mental illness or addiction. We created this position because after listening to families in Connecticut, I heard loud and clear that the government needs to do a better job addressing these issues for the people who need it. Dr. McCance-Katz has a big job ahead of her,” said Murphy. “She’s experienced and I’m confident she’ll bring much-needed focus and attention to making sure people with mental health needs and addiction get the care they need. I look forward to working her.”

McCance-Katz majored in biology and graduated magna cum laude from Eastern in 1978.  Prior to her new appointment, she was the chief medical officer for the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals. She is also a professor of psychiatry and human behavior and professor of behavioral and social sciences at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University. She previously served as the first chief medical officer for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

After receiving her bachelor’s degree at Eastern, she obtained her Ph.D. from Yale University with a specialty in infectious disease epidemiology. McCance-Katz is also a graduate of the University of Connecticut’s School of Medicine and board certified in general psychiatry and addiction psychiatry. She is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry with more than 25 years of experience as a clinician, teacher and clinical researcher.

Following her graduation from UConn, McCance-Katz did her residency in psychiatry at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living. Her career in academia included a seven-year stint as a professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine. She has conducted substantial research in the area of substance abuse and addiction, specifically opioid addiction.

“For the first time ever, a medical professional who is laser focused on addiction and mental health will be in the top echelon of HHS,” said Murphy. “We created this position to elevate these important issues and improve coordination so that people coping with a mental illness or substance use disorder can access the care and treatment they need.”

McCance-Katz’s confirmation has been applauded by such groups as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the American Psychiatric Association.

Students Study Health Care in Ghana

Photo courtesy of Helena Delfino '18
Photo courtesy of Helena Delfino '18
Photo courtesy of Helena Delfino '18
Photo courtesy of Helena Delfino '18
Photo courtesy of Helena Delfino '18
Photo courtesy of Helena Delfino '18
Photo courtesy of Helena Delfino '18
Photo courtesy of Helena Delfino '18
Photo courtesy of Helena Delfino '18
Photo courtesy of Helena Delfino '18
Photo courtesy of Helena Delfino '18

 

Written by Michael Rouleau

Ten health sciences students from Eastern Connecticut State University returned from a study abroad trip in Ghana this August. The purpose of the two-week trip was to introduce students to the health care system of a developing country.

Trip highlights included two days at Mampong Hospital, a rural facility where the students observed two live births. “Students got to see a cesarean section and hold a five-minute old baby, which is an unparalleled experience,” said trip supervisor Rochelle Gimenez, a health sciences professor at Eastern.

“My goal is to become a labor and delivery nurse,” said Helena Delfino ’18. “We all got the chance to stand in the operating room and watch a cesarean section! A few days later we observed a natural birth; I got to stand next to the table and hold the baby boy immediately after he entered the world. This experience solidified my dream of becoming a labor and delivery nurse.”

The Eastern students also spent time at an orphanage and gained first-hand knowledge of the local infrastructure while touring a water-treatment plant and an environmental health/sanitation center. They also visited local markets, a game reserve, a monkey sanctuary, a cultural center, a rainforest, and learned about the slave trade at Cape Coast Castle.

“After returning home, the impact of my trip has really become apparent,” said Allison Nadeau ’17. “As an American-born citizen, I have never known any other lifestyle. My times of hardship are minuscule in comparison to what Ghanaians may go through daily. Clean water, wash rooms, consistent electricity and drivable roads are things that I have taken for granted in the United States. Ghanaians showed me the simplicity of true happiness.”

2 Biology Students Complete NASA CT Summer Fellowships

Written by Michael Rouleau

Two Eastern biology students were among six undergraduate students from universities across Connecticut to receive fellowships from the NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium this summer. Lauren Atkinson ’17 used the fellowship to assist in her pursuit of discovering new antibiotics. Lillian Hyde ’17 used hers to research a cell found in the central nervous system known as microglia.

Lauren Atkinson and her research mentor Professor Barbara Murdoch

Lauren Atkinson ’17 and her research mentor Professor Barbara Murdoch

Atkinson’s research is titled “Evaluating the Scorpion Microbiome for Diversity and Antibiotic Production.” Alongside her research mentor Biology Professor Barbara Murdoch, Atkinson researched the scorpion abdominal microbiome in pursuit of finding new antibiotics to address the rising threat of antimicrobial resistance. A microbiome is the collection of microbes or microorganisms that inhabit an environment — in this case, the abdomen of a scorpion — and antimicrobial resistance is the ability of a microbe to resist drugs (like antibiotics) that had previously been useful in treating them.

“The United Nations has declared antimicrobial resistance a fundamental global threat to human life, food production, economic development and security,” said Atkinson. “One step in responding to this threat is to develop new drugs that microbes have not developed resistance to.”

Scorpions are routinely exposed to potentially deadly microbes since many of their prey are vectors for deadly pathogens. “We are testing bacteria naturally found in the abdomens of scorpions for their ability to produce antibiotics,” said Atkinson. “We hypothesize that scorpions have formed symbiotic relationships with bacteria that produce antibiotics that protect the scorpions from these pathogens.”

Lillian Hyde '17

Lillian Hyde ’17

Hyde’s research is titled “Assessment of Microglia Function in Brain and Blood Microenvironments.” She reports: “My experiment focuses on microglia, a cell found in the central nervous system that has been shown to change between an anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory state. These cells are normally grown in fetal bovine serum, however in the body they are isolated in a cerebrospinal fluid-like environment, the fluid that coats the brain and the spinal cord.”

The purpose of the study is to test if the microglia have different states in cerebrospinal fluid (fluid closest to their native environment) compared to fetal bovine serum (their standard culture media).

“A main component of the study is cell culture,” said Hyde, who worked with Biology Professor Kurt Lucin during the fellowship. “I am responsible for maintaining the cell culture and conducting various experiments. My experiment is testing how the cells react to growing in different culture environments and assessing their different states based on their appearance, chemicals that they secrete, and how they respond to foreign substances.”

Relating the experiment to space travel, the NASA CTSGC writes: “By establishing a baseline for microglia function in their native environment, space travel conditions can eventually be tested to assess their effects on the central nervous system.”

NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium is a federally mandated grant, internship and scholarship program that is funded as a part of NASA Education. There are Space Grant Consortia in all 50 states, plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. Eligible full-time undergraduate/graduate students of a consortium university/college may apply for the fellowship program, in which students are expected to work on research related to space/aerospace science or engineering under the guidance of a faculty member or a mentor from industry.

Eastern Named a ‘Great College to Work For’ for Eighth Time

Written by Michael Rouleau

2013GCWF_4CsingularWILLIMANTIC, CT (07/17/2017) Eastern Connecticut State University has again been named a “Great College to Work For” by The Chronicle of Higher Education, a top trade publication for colleges and universities. Released today by The Chronicle, the results are based on a survey of 232 colleges and universities. This is the eighth time Eastern has received “Great Colleges” distinction since it first began participating in the program in 2009.

Only 79 of the institutions that applied for the program achieved “Great College to Work For” recognition this year. Eastern was also named to the national Great Colleges “Honor Roll,” one of only 42 institutions named to this exclusive club. This is the third year in a row that Eastern has been named to the honor roll. Eastern was also the only public four-year university or college in New England to gain “Great Colleges” distinction.

The Chronicle’s Great Colleges to Work For survey is the largest and most comprehensive workplace study in higher education. Now in its 10th year, it recognizes the colleges that get top ratings from their employees on workforce practices and policies.

The survey results are based on a two-part assessment process: an institutional audit that captured demographics and workplace policies, and a survey administered to faculty, administrators, and professional support staff. The primary factor in deciding whether an institution received recognition was employee feedback.

Eastern won honors in six survey categories this year: Collaborative Governance; Compensation and Benefits; Facilities, Workspaces, and Security; Confidence in Senior Leadership; Teaching Environment; and Tenure Clarity and Process.

“It is gratifying to know that our employees continue to value the positive working atmosphere we share on our campus,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “The ‘Great Colleges to Work For’ recognition is not only a symbol of the common purpose found among our faculty and staff, it represents the welcoming and supportive environment that our students experience every day.

“To know that Eastern has consistently received this honor – winning ‘Great Colleges’ recognition in each of the eight years we have participated – is an indication that our commitment to campus unity is an enduring value firmly embedded in our culture.”

“Ten years in, the ‘Great Colleges to Work For’ distinction is well-known by academic jobseekers as a sign that an institution’s employees are valued and given opportunities for growth even when they face financial constraints,” said Liz McMillen, editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Any college or university that’s on the list is showing that they emphasize one of their most valuable assets: their faculty and staff.”

To administer the survey and analyze the results, The Chronicle worked with ModernThink LLC, a strategic human capital consulting firm that has conducted numerous “Best Places to Work” programs, surveying hundreds of thousands of employees nationwide. “It’s easier to be a great workplace during good times, but it’s when times are tough that the commitment to workplace quality really gets tested,” said Richard K. Boyer, principal and managing partner of ModernThink LLC. “Those institutions that measure up during times of economic hardship reinforce their already strong cultures and put even more distance between them and their peer institutions for whom they compete for talent.”

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About Eastern Connecticut State University

Eastern Connecticut State University is the state of Connecticut’s public liberal arts university, serving more than 5,300 students annually at its Willimantic campus and satellite locations. In addition to attracting students from 163 of Connecticut’s 169 towns, Eastern also draws students from 23 other states and 20 other countries. A residential campus offering 39 majors and 64 minors, Eastern offers students a strong liberal art foundation grounded in an array of applied learning opportunities. Ranked the 26th top public university in the North Region by U.S. News and World Report in its 2017 Best College ratings, Eastern has also been awarded “Green Campus” status by the U.S. Green Building Council seven years in a row. For more information, visit www.easternct.edu.

About The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Chronicle of Higher Education is dedicated to serving the higher-education community with insights, understanding, and intellectual engagement. Academic leaders and professionals from around the world trust The Chronicle’s analysis and in-depth exploration to make informed decisions.

About ModernThink LLC

As a research and consulting leader in workplace issues, ModernThink has supported a wide variety of “Best Place to Work” initiatives. Through these programs, the firm has gained substantial survey and industry expertise, including specific insight into higher education. ModernThink knows what it takes to build a great place to work and shares that know-how with its clients. The ModernThink team of organizational development experts is dedicated to helping colleges follow through and capitalize on feedback from employees and benchmark data from peers to drive meaningful change at their institutions. Learn more at http://www.modernthink.com.

View Online: http://easternct.meritpages.com/news/eastern-named-a–great-college-to-work-for–for-eighth-time/691

Mariana Serrano Receives Biomedical Scholarship Through Harvard University

ms 1Mariana Serrano ’18 of Waterbury, CT, received a $7,500 scholarship at the Biomedical Science Careers Program (BSCP) “Evening of Hope” reception at Harvard University on April 27.  The scholarship, funded by Radius Health, a biopharmaceutical company in Waltham, MA, will support Serrano’s education at Eastern Connecticut State University, where she is a health science major and biology minor.

Serrano’s relationship with the BSCP began in summer 2016 with a summer internship at Harvard Medical School’s Summer Clinical and Translational Research Program, a 10-week mentored research program designed to increase the number of students from underrepresented populations who are exposed to clinical research.  Serrano was one of only 10 students selected.

“I have been so fortunate to have this opportunity to be introduced to the bio-medical profession at Harvard Medical School,” said Serrano.  “The experiences I have had range from observing surgeries to hands-on training in biomedical research, from learning to give presentations to networking within a large intellectual community.”

With a concentration in pre-physical therapy, Serrano is interested in the intersectionality of medicine and anthropology and is conducting research with Mary Kenny, professor of anthropology at Eastern. She has also been researching therapeutic regimens related to aortic valve disease at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Roxbury, MA.

Serrano began her college career at Eastern in the Summer Transition at Eastern Program/ Contract Admissions Program (STEP/CAP), a six-week residential program the summer after high school graduation that provides intensive instruction in mathematics, writing and study skills.  Successful STEP/CAP students are then admitted to Eastern each fall. Serrano will serve as a peer assistant in STEP/CAP in summer 2017.

Honors Students Study Environmental Conflict in Costa Rica

 

Written by Michael Rouleau

A group of honors students from Eastern Connecticut State University spent 10 days in Costa Rica in May 2017 for a field course that examined the country’s rich biodiversity and developing agricultural industry.

“This course required students to examine the conflict between preservation of the tropical rainforest and Costa Rica’s economic shift to export-focused agriculture,” said Patricia Szczys, biology professor and trip supervisor.

“Our trips to plantations as well as conservation centers and the tropical rainforest allowed us to see how the Costa Rican citizens feel about the conflict, what they’re doing to fix it, and put our research into perspective,” said Michelle D’Agata ’18, a sport and leisure management major. “Overall, I found that the citizens, scientists and plantation owners have positive attitudes and genuine concerns for the environment, and plantation owners use a number of tactics to minimize their negative impacts.”

The trip to Costa Rica was the field component of a course taken on the Eastern campus during the academic year. The students toured the tropical rainforest as well as plantations that grow pineapples, bananas, peppercorn and coffee. They even participated in a community service project where they planted 100 trees at a peppercorn farm as part of a reforestation effort.

“Costa Rica was certainly a great conclusion to my undergraduate career!” said Kayla Giordano ’17, a political science and economics double major. “I think the most eye-opening part of the trip was experiencing how our food is grown and how different agriculture is in Costa Rica compared to the United States. I’m glad I spent the semester learning about the biodiversity in Costa Rica before actually traveling to the country. It was awesome to be able to identify species we’d discussed in class during excursions into the rainforest.”

Students Study Tropical Biology in Bahamas

 

Written by Michael Rouleau

Twenty biology students from Eastern Connecticut State University traveled to the Bahamas in May 2017 to study the island’s tropical biology.

At the Gerace Research Center, students experienced life at an active field station where they explored mangrove forests, sea grass beds, saline lakes and coral reefs. The group snorkeled at field sites around the island and identified species and compared notes on the animals and behaviors they observed. They also conducted quantitative surveys of rocky intertidal and dune communities.

The trip to the Bahamas was the field component of a class taken on the Eastern campus during the academic year, in which students studied island formation and the ecology of island ecosystems. The class was led by Biology Professors Joshua Idjadi, Kristen Epp and Brett Mattingly.

In their free time, students enjoyed interacting with other school groups and local residents at the research center and surrounding community. Students described the field course as their best experience at Eastern.