Eastern Students Study Literature in Italy

Eastern’s Creative Writing Abroad group at Piazzale Michelangelo, overlooking Florence.

Written by Dwight Bachman

A group of Eastern students, under the guidance of Professor Christopher Torockio, recently traveled to Italy to participate in the Creative Writing Abroad course. The students spent five weeks, from June 25 to July 31, writing fiction stories inspired by their travels and experiences at the Studio Arts College International (SACI) in Florence.

A quick break from one of our class workshops, which were held in the beautiful garden of Studio Art College-Florence’s main building, Palazzo dei Cartelloni, a Renaissance-era palazzo that was remodeled in the 17th Century as a residence for the mathematician Vincenzo Viviani, who had been a pupil of the astronomer and scientist Galileo Galilei.

 Michael Merrow, a junior majoring in Communications, was one of the students who used Italy’s Tuscan views, scenery, art and architecture to inspire their writing. “The creative writing study aborad course is an amazing way to gain cultural perspective,” said Merrow. “The art and lifestyle of Florecne provided great inspiration. This was truly a life changing experience.”

Colleen Deely, a junior majoring in Psychology, agreed: “Since taking this creative writing course, I’ve explored not only a new and beautiful place, but a different, more creative side of myself. Through my classmate’s inspiring stories and breathtaking surroundings, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation and greater knowledge for Italian culture. This trip has really encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone and travel more!”

The group took intensive, creative writing workshops in the lovely Renaissance-era palazzo garden at SACI, where they also critiqued and edited each other’s original works of short fiction.

Somewhere in Tuscany.

“Florence is a great location for creative writers, as it’s not only a beautiful, historic and artistically rich city,” said Torockio. “Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance, and is also centrally located in Italy, allowing the students to take lots of day trips almost anywhere throughout Italy.”

Abby Murren, a junior majoring in English, said the course was the one of the best adventures she will ever take: “As an English major with a concentration in creative writing, this course gave me the perfect opportunity to improve my writing while experiencing one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The amount of inspiration I had from experiencing Florence’s people, culture, and history only strengthened my love for writing, and I’m beyond grateful to have had that opportunity.”

Guided by SACI art historians, the students also visited Italian destinations ranging from Fiesole to Siena, Venice, San

Hiking from Vernazza to Monterosso.

Gimignano, Lucca, Pisa the Amalfi Coast and the Colosseum in Rome. Trips to other European destinations included Barcelona, Dublin, Amsterdam and more, where the students visited museums, galleries and other cultural landmarks.

Students Sample the ‘Real World’ through Summer Internships

Samantha Honeywell is interning at Fox 17 News in Nashville–an opportunity she learned of thanks to Eastern alumnus Adam Wurtzel (right).

From radio stations to baseball stadiums, the efforts of Eastern students to enter the working world are evident this summer. With the sense of accomplishment that comes from completing an internship at the undergraduate level comes other benefits, such as resume enhancement, network building and skills development. Following are just a few of those students who are seizing their summer with an internship.

Business Administration major Joshua Lamoureux ’18 interns for The Nutmeg Broadcasting Company, a subsidiary of Hall Communications Radio Group, at WILI radio station in Willimantic, CT. “I write scripts for ads in addition to recording radio voice promotions and advertisements for the AM and FM stations,” he said. “I also attend to marketing, research and copywriting tasks.”

Lamoureux’s favorite part of the internship is creating his own recordings and adding personal touches to them, like music selections and sound effects. “The skills I’m utilizing are important because I’m interested in pursuing a career in the same field.”

Samantha Honeywell ’20 is another student finding her place in broadcasting. A Communication major, she was introduced to her internship at Fox 17 News in Nashville, TN, by Eastern alumnus Adam Wurtzel ’07, a reporter on “Nashville Insider” and host of “The Nashouse.”

Honeywell assists multimedia journalists with reporting, filming and editing news packages. The fast-paced, deadline-oriented environment of the news industry has been enlightening to her. “Up until now I’ve been allowed to take my time on video editing projects. But here, there’s a completely different set up.”

Katherine O’Rourke is a housing operations intern at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Mathematics student Katherine O’Rourke ’19 also traveled out of state to fulfill her position as a housing operations intern at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. Duties include managing work orders, conducting preventative maintenance by patrolling buildings, working with facilities and taking inventories.

“My favorite thing about my summer internship is exploring Philadelphia and working with new acquaintances. I also really enjoy getting to know how different schools function,” said O’Rourke. “As an aspiring student affairs professional, I think my internship is providing me with important experience in terms of the operations side of the field.”

Demitra Kourtzidis ’19, a Political Science and Economics double major, experienced similar professional growth during her time spent as an intern at the Office of Policy and Management in Hartford, CT.

“Because of my internship, I’ve learned that legislation is its own language — and I can now read and understand it,” she said. “My supervisor taught me about different political strategies and how small steps legislators take eventually end up as part of a bigger plan.”

Kourtzidis helped track legislation from early public hearings through passage in the House and Senate. She also took notes at public hearings and various agency meetings, tracked bills and amendments and attended House and Senate sessions to track bill status.

“My internship allowed me to learn about the behind-the-scenes political process,” she continued. “It taught me so much about politics and public policy, and is already proving to be useful in my academic career.” Kourtzidis is interested in a career as a public policy consultant. Moreover, she would like to pursue a doctorate in public policy so that she can become a college professor and conduct research.

Sport and Leisure Management major Madalyn Budzik ’19 is refining skills that will be useful in her potential career endeavors, as well. She is a field promotion intern for the Bristol Blues collegiate baseball organization based in Bristol, CT.

Budzik organizes all advertising sponsors and games, and works closely with the game announcer to ensure all event communications take place accurately and seamlessly. She also devises games and events for children attending games.

“It takes me out of my comfort zone in terms of public speaking because it requires me to speak in front of large groups of people,” she said. “I know this will help me in the future because I am building organizational and communication skills. Internships are important for students because they provide real-world, hands-on experience so they can decide whether they want to continue to pursue the career path they may be considering.”

Honeywell concurred, “Every student should do an internship, or more than one if possible, so that they can experience different scenarios and challenges that arise in their field.”

“Internships are invaluable for students,” concluded O’Rourke.

Written by Jordan Corey

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.

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.

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 Student Attends Harvard DivEx Program

Ruth Eragen BESTWritten by Jordan Corey

Eastern Connecticut State University student Ruth Eragene ’19 participated in the three-day Diversity and Explorations (DivEx) program at Harvard Divinity School (HDS) this November. Eragene hails from New Britain and majors in Finance.

DivEx is an introduction to graduate programs for undergraduate students who have a commitment to diversity and social justice and are considering career fields that have a focus on religion, theology and ethics.

“I got interested in DivEx because I’ve been considering a future in divinity school to learn more about the Bible,” said Eragene, who has also contemplated a future as a preacher. “The program seemed to be a great place to start.”

During her experience, she got a glimpse of two subject matters offered at HDS: Greek and New Testament. While one was lecture style, the other required more student involvement and allowed for questions and commentary among the group.

DivEx also included panels showcasing campus life, options for different majors and financial aid packages. Students also toured the campus and interacted with faculty. They were welcomed to the program with a dinner that called for self-contemplation, encouraging students to determine their goals for the program.

“They had us reflect on how we feel in our own skin, and on places where we feel at home, to help evaluate whether or not Harvard is the place for us,” Eragene stated.

“I got to see what the school was really about, beyond just the name,” she added. In addition to getting a feel for the environment, classes and financial components of HDS, Eragene noted that she left with newfound friendships that only emphasize her value in diversity.

Education for Democracy at Eastern

•Rick Battistoni leads the conference's keynote discussion

Rick Battistoni leads the conference’s keynote discussion

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern Connecticut State University hosted its second annual Civic Action Conference on Nov. 8. to dissect the practice of “service learning” and its impact on students and society. Service learning is a mutually beneficial teaching strategy that aligns classroom learning with community efforts. Organized by the Center for Community Engagement, the conference featured insights from Eastern faculty and students – Rick Battistoni, who teaches public/community service studies at Providence College, was the keynote speaker.

•Professor Terry Lennox presents on her class's service learning work with the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp

Professor Terry Lennox presents on her class’s service learning work with the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.

“Why connect classroom to community?” asked Terry Lennox, digital art and design professor. She had three answers: Working in the real world accelerates the learning process. Secondly, when students can see their impact, they realize the value of their work. Thirdly, service learning is great for portfolios and resumes.

For several years, Lennox has led the Eastern Design Group (a capstone course for seniors) on digital design projects with local nonprofits and community organizations. Among their endeavors, students have designed a permanent exhibit at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford, as well as created designs for a gala at Windham Hospital and the nonprofit Grow Windham.

•An Eastern student presents on her service learning work with the Windham Region No Freeze shelter.

•An Eastern student presents on her service learning work with the Windham Region No Freeze shelter.

Speaking to service learning in general, Lennox added, “students benefit by increasing their depth of pre-professional experiences, as well as gaining the reward of successfully working together and seeing their individual talents bring about positive change.”

Communication Professor Denise Matthews has taught a video field production course for 14 years, in which students produce videos for local organizations. “While the quality of the work is very important,” she says, “the experience that students acquire in the process of working as a professional with a client may be the most important component of their learning experience.”

Business Administration Professor Fatma Pakdil brings her students to collaborate with local businesses to analyze operations management topics. “We focus on their business problems and projects so students can see the real-life application of topics covered in the classroom,” she said. “Having a real case with various topics to work on is more challenging and informative, and shows students what they can expect after graduation.”

Keynote speaker Rick Battistoni took the stage for his talk, “Community or Political Engagement? Educating for Democracy in Troubled Times.” “Our current political landscape is full of craters and our discourse has become more polarized,” he said, adding that “voter turnout is abysmally low, especially among college-aged people, for a country that I like to think of as a democracy.”

Battistoni is confident that well-implemented service learning in higher education can counter this civic disengagement, saying that “community engagement is indeed education for democracy.”

In order for this to come to fruition, however, Battistoni says service learning must satisfy three things: purpose, accountability and time.

He explained that classroom goals must clearly align with the goals of the community partner (purpose); the impact must be measured (accountability); and the programs must be long enough to develop meaningful relationships and knowledge (time). “It must be sustained and developmental,” he said, “not just a one-and-done.”

This concept of “time” aligned with the conference’s opening presentation on Eastern’s soon-to-be-formalized Civic Action Plan, which aims to “institutionalize” the practice of service learning. The plan will expand service learning and community engagement opportunities at Eastern; create an academic minor in civic engagement; develop a committee on community-engaged teaching and learning; and reinforce the practice by recognizing and rewarding service learning achievements.

“Eastern has always had a longstanding relationship with the community; it just hasn’t always been organized,” said Kim Silcox, director of the Center for Community Engagement, which acts as a bridge between the campus and the surrounding community. “This plan broadens and refines the work that’s already been happening on campus.”