Professor and Alumnus Join Forces in Augmented Reality Venture

When Eastern students graduate, they often stay in touch with faculty via e-mail. Benjamin Williams ’15, chief executive officer of ARsome Technology Group, a Manchester-based software company specializing in augmented reality (AR), went one step further. He went into business with his former Eastern instructor!

Williams, who studied business information systems and management at Eastern, is partners with David Oyanadel, former part-time Business Information Systems lecturer and ARsome Technology’s chief innovation officer.

“David worked closely with Business Information Systems Professor Alex Citurs for years,” said Williams. “We stayed in contact after the class and started the business, building augmented and virtual reality software.”

“We came together to start a business because of our friendship and shared interests in technology and innovation,” said Oyanadel. “We both have different skill sets. Ben is more business-like, and I am more tech-like, but we have great synergy.”

Augmented reality superimposes computer-generated images on the physical world using VR goggles, cell phones or tablets. The two entrepreneurs are using this new technology to provide services to educators, as well as for manufacturing, art, business and advertising organizations.

Williams and Oyanadel believe the interactive nature of AR will become the predominant method of teaching. “Picture a science class where a student can hold an iPad over a map of the solar system and planets begin to rotate,” explains their website.

The two entrepreneurs recently created a virtual statue of Mark Twain that stands on the sidewalk next to the real Twain statue in front of Hartford Public Library. When seen on an iPad screen showing the front of the library, Twain looks as natural as a live person until a passerby walks straight through him. Then he starts waving his arms and speaking in Twain’s famous Southern accent about the city of Hartford!

Oyanadel and Williams also have designed scavenger hunts for museums using AR and created menus that allow restaurant diners to view meals in front of them via cell phone before ordering.

ARSome Technology now has five employees and clients as far away as Brazil.We want people to really enjoy remembering what they experienced,” said Williams.  “Augmented Reality is a fun-filled way to make life experiences memorable.”

Written by Dwight Bachman

Photo Credit: Erik Ofgang, Connecticut Magazine

Eastern Alumna Salutes Inclusive Excellence Award Winners

On May 9, Eastern recognized more than 100 students with a 3.5 cumulative grade point average or higher, and an additional 11 students who have demonstrated exemplary co-curricular engagement at the University’s Seventh Annual Inclusive Excellence Student Awards Ceremony. The ceremony recognized the achievements of African, Latino, Asian and Native American (ALANA) students at Eastern.

Eastern President Elsa Núñez said the ceremony was not just about inclusion, but also spoke to the University’s other core values of academic excellence, integrity, social responsibility, engagement and empowerment. “It is important for each of you to stand tall and be proud of who you are and what you are capable of. Never, ever, ever let anyone attempt to diminish your worth or your talents.

“Today’s honorees join thousands of other successful Eastern alumni who are making their own personal contributions out in the real world, including our guest speaker today, Dr. Kawami Evans. Today, we show respect and celebrate the accomplishments of students who too often have been forgotten in the past.  Thank you for being part of this celebration; to our honorees, congratulations.  We are very proud of you.”

Keynote speaker Evans ’97 serves as associate director at the Center for African Diaspora Student Success at the University of California at Davis. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history and social science at Eastern, her Master of Education in educational policy and research administration from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a doctorate in educational management and leadership from Drexel University.

Evans encouraged the students to use their curiosity and optimism to persevere through unseen psychological struggles that can become their staunchest challenges. She said many high- achieving students fall prey to chasing individual achievements, accolades or material gain as their goal, even confusing their self-worth with what they can accomplish.

“This is dangerous; it can lead to anxiety and depression. Don’t let this be your reality or focus,” said Evans. “Who you are is what we are celebrating today. All the earned accolades you are receiving are but a byproduct of the brilliance within you . . . You are the promise of our ancestors’ prayers and walk with the wisdom and swag of those who have grit, resilience, the social and emotional intelligence, curiosity and hope.”

Evans told the students the most important element they need to resurrect in discussing their future success is their spirituality, ways in which students discover their destiny — answers to the big questions of who they are, what is their life purpose and how do they make difference in the world.

“Much of the world right now is relegated to systems and polices. We have to raise the bar with our vision of what’s possible,” Evans said. “It will take hard work, community, love, bravery, unrelentless effort and celebration.  I sincerely believe that we can create a world that works for all.”

A total of 280 students qualified for an Academic Excellence Award with a 3.5 cumulative GPA or higher, and more than 100 of them were able to attend the May 9 event. During the ceremony, several students received service awards. Adrianna Arocho and Mayra Santos Acosta was presented the Volunteer Service Award; Aiyana Ward, the Athletic Excellence Award; Kimberly Allen and Sommer Bachelor, the Career Development Award; Jenilee Antonetty, the Resident Assistant Diversity Impact Award; Rafael Aragon, the Residential Community Leadership Award; Tristan Perez, the Social Justice Advocacy Award; Emma Costa, the Inspirational Leadership Award; Ishah Azeez, the Resilient Warrior Award; Kimberly Allen and Vishal Jungiwalla, the Advisor’s Choice Award; and the Freedom at Eastern Club, the Building Bridges Award.

By Dwight Bachman

Eastern Graduates 1,250 Students at XL Center

Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba

Hartford, CT — Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba, chief of the Mohegan Tribe, told the 1,259 graduates at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 129th Commencement to “Allow yourself the faith to ‘dream ahead’ as you embrace the next chapter in your journey.” Noting that college graduates have greater job security, live longer and have greater social mobility, Malerba told the graduates that they had made “a smart decision” in pursuing their educational dreams.

The annual graduation ceremony was held at the XL Center in Hartford on May 21, with more than 12,000 family members and friends cheering on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,175 undergraduates and 84 graduate students received their diplomas.

Malerba told the graduates “Your education has just begun, as you have ‘birthed’ a career that will only grow and mature over time.” She also reminded graduates to set aside time for the “keepers of your heart” — family and friends who share life’s challenges. “When you meet others on the path of life, offer a kind word, encourage someone, comfort someone, and celebrate someone’s joy.”

The commencement speaker also received an honorary doctor of science degree from Eastern in a special hooding ceremony during the graduation exercises. 

Malerba was appointed the 18th Chief of the Mohegan Tribe in August 2010, becoming the first female chief in the tribe’s modern history. She previously was chair of the tribal council and executive director of health and human services for the tribal government.

Prior to her leadership roles in the Mohegan Tribe, Malerba served as director of cardiology and pulmonary services at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital. She earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice from Yale University and her master’s degree in public administration from the University of Connecticut.

In addition to a distinguished career as a registered nurse and her leadership positions with the Mohegan Tribe, Malerba is also a national advocate of health issues and the welfare of Native Peoples. She serves in a number of national roles, including positions with the Federal Indian Health Services; the U.S. Department of Justice; and the National Institutes of Health.

Other speakers at the Commencement exercises included Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Merle Harris, vice-chair of the

President Elsa Núñez

Board of Regents for Higher Education; and Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges 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.

“The most important lesson I hope you have learned at Eastern is the knowledge that our great American democracy is only great because of the involvement and participation of our citizens,” said Núñez. “Being a citizen means debating the issues with your friends and in public forums — wherever you get a chance to voice your opinion. Most importantly, be willing to say no to whatever doesn’t feel right.

“You have learned how to think critically on our campus. You have learned how to ask questions, conduct research and analyze the results.  Do this in your workplace, in your community, and as a citizen of our great country.  I know you can do it . . . and I am counting on you to do so.  We need your enthusiasm, commitment and knowledge more than ever.”

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 160 of the state’s 169 towns, with approximately 85 percent of graduates staying in Connecticut to launch their careers, contribute to their communities and raise their families.

Senior Class President Michael Theriault (right)

Senior Class President Michael Theriault presented the Senior Class Gift to President Núñez — an annual Class of 2019 scholarship — and thanked his classmates’ families, friends and faculty for supporting the senior class in its journey. He recalled registering for classes in the early morning hours, “trying to stay silent on the third floor of the library” and Thursday night pancakes. Looking to the future, Theriault said the arena floor was a sea of graduation caps, but “While they may look the same from the outside, the reality is that we all will wear different hats. Some of us will go on to be future educators and make differences in the lives of students. Others will become journalists, historians, psychologists, broadcasters and so much more. No matter what hat you will wear, we will all be Eastern Warriors now and forever.”

In speaking on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, Vice-Chair Merle Harris reminded the audience that “commencement” means “beginning.” She told the graduates they “have gained the skills needed to make wise decisions. . .” and were ready to “make your community, our state, and our nation a better place. I am gratified that I can greet you tonight as you begin the next phase of your life’s journey.”

CSCU President Ojakian also offered remarks. Pointing to the “transformational academic journey you have just completed,” he called the graduates “change agents for the future and the next generation of leaders.” Ojakian went on to say, “Connecticut needs bright, talented individuals to stay here, fill the jobs of the 21st century, purchase homes, and raise their families here in the state. Connecticut needs your creativity, your entrepreneurial spirit and your ingenuity. You are the future of Connecticut — and because of that, Connecticut’s future is bright.”

From the colorful Governor’s Foot Guard Color Guard in attendance, to the piercing sound of the bagpipes of the St. Patrick’s Pipe Band and the pre-event music of the Thread City Brass Quintet, this year’s graduation ceremonies reflected Eastern’s longstanding Commencement traditions.

University Senate President Andrew Utterback presided over the commencement exercises; seniors Andrew Hofmann, Tiara Lussier, Austin Stone, Ryan Michaud and Sara Ann Vega sang “America the Beautiful”; senior Shawn Ray Dousis gave the invocation; and Environmental Earth Science Professor Dickson Cunningham was recognized as the 2019 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.

Written by Ed Osborn

43 Strong, Eastern Represents in Georgia at National Conference

With 43 student presenters, Eastern was among the top 20 schools nationwide for NCUR participation, and the only school from New England to make the list.

Forty-three students from Eastern Connecticut State University traveled to Georgia on April 11-13 to present original research at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR). The 2019 conference occurred at Kennesaw State University and featured hundreds of undergraduate students from across the country.

Eastern was among the top 20 schools nationwide for NCUR participation this year – the only school from New England to make the list – and one of the few with a student population of less than 6,000.

Eastern students from a range of majors presented artwork, music performances and oral/poster presentations. Research questions probed topics such as the microbiome of scorpions, the link between casual sex and online dating, pop-culture glamorization of eating disorders, and much more.

Adella Dzitko-Carlson presents “Finding Faith in the 21st Century: The Search for the Sacred in John Luther Adams’ “In the Name of the Earth.”

Music major Esther Jones ’20 commented on the experience of performing a lecture-recital. “This experience at NCUR was a milestone in my life because I didn’t think that I could actually do it when the time finally came around. I thought that I would be trembling so badly that my mind would go blank.”

Jones’ piano performance was titled “‘Theme and Variations on an Egyptian Folksong’ by Gamal Abdel-Rahim.” She added, “This experience helped to boost my confidence and has given me courage to face new challenges.”

“One of my greatest takeaways from this conference is how it pushes you and makes you a better academic,” said Michael Tuttle ’19, who majors in psychology and mathematics.

“Presenting at a conference subjects your research to a higher level of scrutiny, challenging your thoughts and ideas. When audience members ask questions and offer suggestions, it pushes you to think critically and creatively.” Tuttle’s presentation was titled “Overconfidence and Impulsivity of College Students in a Cognitive Reflection Task.”

Theresa Parker presents “Echo Chambers in Social Media: Why do People Seek or Reject Opposing Viewpoints.”

Biology major Chris Shimwell ’20 presented “Molecular Identification of the Scorpion Telson Microbiome.” He said, “Presenting at a national conference is a valuable experience because it allows you to synthesize information into an audio-visual format and present it to others who are highly educated and knowledgeable about your field.”

Jacob Dayton ’19, a biology major who presented two projects – one on the genetic diversity of a migratory bird group and one on the behaviors of strawberry poison-dart frogs – added that the value of presenting at national conferences is threefold.

“One, it provides students with the opportunity to practice communicating their research to a diverse audience. Two, questions and comments from audience members challenge students to defend and/or expand their thinking. And three, it provides the opportunity to publicize Eastern and the quality research that its students are conducting.”

Students also cited being exposed to new research questions during others’ presentations, interacting with peers from across the country, and sharing the NCUR experience with their Eastern friends as highlights of the conference. Psychology Professors Carlos Escoto and James Diller and Biology Professor Patricia Szczys accompanied the Eastern group.

NCUR was established in 1987. From a pool of several thousand applicants, students are accepted into the conference if their research demonstrates a unique contribution to their field of study. NCUR offers undergraduates the opportunity to present their research findings to peers, faculty and staff from colleges and universities across the nation, providing a unique networking and learning opportunity.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Mohegan Tribal Chief Named Eastern’s Commencement Speaker

 Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba, chief of the Mohegan Tribe, will be the Commencement Speaker at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 129th Commencement Exercises on May 21 at the XL Center in Hartford. Malerba will also receive an honorary doctorate degree at the ceremonies.

Malerba has achieved an exemplary career in the health care and tribal governance fields. Not only has she served her community with distinction, she has brought national recognition to the State of Connecticut.

Chief Mutáwi Mutáhash (Many Hearts) Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba became the 18th Chief of the Mohegan Tribe on August 15, 2010, and is the first female chief in the tribe’s modern history. The position is a lifetime appointment made by the tribe’s council of elders. She previously served as chairwoman of the tribal council and was also executive director of health and human services for the tribal government.

Prior to her work for the Mohegan Tribe, Chief Malerba had a distinguished career as a registered nurse and served as director of cardiology and pulmonary services at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital. She earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree at Yale University and was named a Jonas Scholar. She holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Connecticut, and has an honorary doctorate from the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford.

Chief Malerba has achieved a national reputation as an advocate and supporter of health issues and the welfare of Native Peoples. She is chairwoman of the Tribal Self-Governance Advisory Committee of the Federal Indian Health Services; is a member of the U.S. Justice Department’s Tribal Nations Leadership Council; serves on the Tribal Advisory Committee for the National Institute of Health; is a member of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Tribal Advisory Committee; and serves as a technical expert on the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. She also serves as the United South and Eastern Tribes board of directors secretary, and is a member of the board of directors for the Ms. Foundation for Women.

In Connecticut, Chief Malerba serves as a trustee for Chelsea Groton Bank, as a board member for the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, as an advisory committee member for the Harvard University Native American Program and served on the board of directors for Lawrence Memorial Hospital for 11 years.

More than 1,200 undergraduate and graduate students will receive their diplomas at Eastern’s graduation exercises on May 21, with an audience of more than 10,000 family and friends expected. In addition to Malerba, dignitaries expected to attend include Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System; and Merle Harris, vice-chair of the Board of Regents for Higher Education.

Written by Ed Osborn

Annual CREATE Conference to Showcase Student Art, Research

 

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/08/2019) Eastern Connecticut State University will host its premier academic and artistic conference of the year on April 12. CREATE – Celebrating Research Excellence and Artistic Talent at Eastern – will take place from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. in the Student Center and surrounding venues. An award ceremony with remarks by Eastern President Elsa Núñez will take place at 12:30 p.m. in the Betty R. Tipton Room of the Student Center.

Hundreds of student researchers, artists and performers will present their talents at CREATE. Students from all majors will lead oral and poster presentations, participate in panel discussions, showcase music and dance performances, exhibit their art and photography, and present documentary films and more.

Registration will take place at 8 a.m. at the Student Center Café. President Núñez will present two undergraduate awards and two mentor awards to outstanding students and faculty members at the 12:30 p.m. award ceremony.

For more information, visit http://www.easternct.edu/create/, where you can view the day’s agenda and download the event’s cell phone app for iPhone and Android.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Annual CREATE Conference to Showcase Student Art, Research

Eastern Connecticut State University will host its premier academic and artistic conference of the year on April 12. CREATE – Celebrating Research Excellence and Artistic Talent at Eastern – will take place from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. in the Student Center and surrounding venues. An award ceremony with remarks by Eastern President Elsa Núñez will take place at 12:30 p.m. in the Betty R. Tipton Room of the Student Center.

Students present research during the poster session of the 2018 CREATE conference.

Hundreds of student researchers, artists and performers will present their talents at CREATE. Students from all majors will lead oral and poster presentations, participate in panel discussions, showcase music and dance performances, exhibit their art and photography, and present documentary films and more.

Registration will take place at 8 a.m. at the Student Center Café. President Núñez will present two undergraduate awards and two mentor awards to outstanding students and faculty members at the 12:30 p.m. award ceremony.

For more information, visit http://www.easternct.edu/create/, where you can view the day’s agenda and download the event’s cell phone app for iPhone and Android.

Written by Michael Rouleau

For Lynda Petrides, Dreams Really Do Come True

Lynda Petrides now holds an IT position at SPIROL International Corporation.

Lynda Petrides ’17 is living her dream these days. After years of working at part-time jobs, the 59-year-old Eastern graduate is finally working full time in her chosen career field of information technology, recently landing a position as a systems analyst at Danielson, CT-based SPIROL International Corp., a leading manufacturer of engineered fasteners and components used primarily in automotive and aerospace applications.

The position is the culmination of a long journey. Instead of going to college right after high school, Petrides decided to join the workforce. She took a job as a cashier in a grocery store and quickly learned she wanted a better job with better hours, enrolling in Hagerstown (PA) Community College. Her classes in accounting and business administration paid off, as she was promoted to the accounting office with better work hours.

The college experience had another benefit; she met her husband! He was in the Army, and life happened. “We got married, moved to Georgia, then to Germany, back to Georgia, and finally, to eastern Connecticut. We had four children and I became a stay-at-home mom for many years. Eventually, I worked part time at my children’s elementary school as a library aide and later as an assistant computer instructor. This work supported the school and fed my interest in technology.”

Petrides and Professor Kunene at the national EDSIGCON conference in Austin, TX.

In 2010, Petrides found a part-time job as an administrative assistant for Loos & Co. in Pomfret, which manufactures aircraft cable and other stainless-steel products. “This job supported my interests in computer technology and increased my desire to expand my horizons in information systems,” said Petrides. “When my youngest child graduated from high school in 2013, my new dream was to complete my associate degree at Quinebaug Valley Community College.

Petrides graduated summa cum laude from the community college in 2015 and set her sights on her next goal — obtaining her bachelor’s degree. Unsure of what to major in but still interested in technology and business, Petrides learned about Eastern’s business information systems (BIS) major. In summer 2015, she took her first foundation class at Eastern with Sukeshini Grandhi, associate professor of business information systems.

“Life was good! In the spring semester of 2016, I was offered an internship through Cigna’s Technology Early Career Development Program. My role was in project management and I learned valuable skills working with large datasets. This was a great experience for me.”

In her senior year, Petrides worked with Nikki Kunene, assistant professor of business information systems and health information management, on a research project that culminated with Petrides co-presenting at a national conference.

Lynda Petrides on graduation day.

“Our project was on the usability of the Blackboard interface from the instructor’s perspective. Dr. Kunene and I worked on the project throughout 2017 with research, lab testing, data analysis, surveys and write-ups. Our research paper was accepted for inclusion at the EDSIGCON Conference (Information Systems and Computing Education) in Austin, TX.”

“To meaningfully contribute in a research project a student must be able to think, be ready to learn the research skills needed, write well, and quickly learn the technologies we use,” said Kunene. “Lynda had all those qualities. She worked hard, thought critically, and learned new skills readily. She was the ideal student in a STEM major with a liberal arts grounding.”

Crediting her position at SPIROL to her internships, research experiences and BIS classes, Petrides says, “I thank all the great professors at Eastern for providing wonderful learning experiences to students, especially part-time students like myself.”

Petrides’ job at SPIROL challenges her on many levels, “but I’m learning something new every single day. I’m probably the oldest person ever to major in Business Information Systems at Eastern. I hope I broke some gender and age stereotypes along the way! Just know this — dreams really do come true no matter what your age. You just need to take that first step.”

by Dwight Bachman

Visiting Professor Discusses VR Technology for Students with Autism

Written by Jordan Corey

Visiting professor James Lawler of Pace University came to Eastern on Oct. 17 to discuss the use of virtual reality as a tool to help people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). At Pace’s Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems, Lawler has been conducting a study centered on young adults with developmental intellectual disabilities.

“What we’re attempting to do is determine the benefits of virtual reality for high school students with autism spectrum disorders,” said Lawler. “Does this technology help them to learn? Does it help them to socialize?” Lawler’s focus is on students with mid-spectrum ASD. He has worked with a number of special education high schools in New York City. “Those students come to my course every Tuesday,” he said. “They’re mentored by my students on different technologies.”

For the study, Lawler and his team first identified the best class of virtual reality headsets, deciding on the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift systems. Then, they determined three particular applications (apps) to use for testing — 3D Organon VR Anatomy, Ocean Rift and Star Chart. His study subjects then come to Pace each week over the course of a month and spend two-hour sessions using the devices. Lawler and his group of information-systems student researchers use a survey to gauge the effectiveness of each app and system.

“The idea is to make the subject matter more engaging for those students who may not benefit from traditional lecture-style teaching.” Lawler admits that at this time — in the beginning stages of the study — that what they have is a descriptive study. Descriptive studies attempt to gather quantifiable information that can be used to statistically analyze a target audience or a particular subject. He poses the questions, “How do we apply virtual reality to this particular population? How do we apply augmented reality to help children with autism become focused? How do we apply technology to help students with developmental disabilities?”

Lawler’s study, while still progressing, has evoked clear enthusiasm from students with disabilities that suggests a positive impact in using virtual reality for both academic and social learning. “For kids with disabilities, virtual reality is not a game,” he concluded. In 2010, Lawler was the recipient of a national Jefferson Award for Community Service. He has been with Pace University for more than 35 years.

Lawler was invited to campus by the business information systems (BIS) program as part of Eastern’s University Hour series. Many BIS students and club members of the Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP) attended the event.